Report on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (Tonga) — 18 March-24 March 2009

Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 18 March-24 March 2009
Managing Editor: Sally Kuhn Sennert

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2009. Report on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (Tonga). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 18 March-24 March 2009. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.

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Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai

Tonga

20.536°S, 175.382°W; summit elev. 114 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Based on information from Tonga Meteorological Services, analysis of satellite imagery, and pilot observations, the Wellington VAAC reported that during 18-19 March ash plumes from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai rose to altitudes of 4-5.2 km (13,000-17,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted NE and about 480 km ENE. On 20 March, steam plumes rose to an altitude of 1.8 km (6,000 ft) a.s.l. Wide-spread haze was reported in areas downwind, below an altitude of 1.5 km (5,000 ft) a.s.l., including in Vava'u, a group of islands about 255 km NE of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai. On 21 March, an eruption plume rose to an altitude of 0.8 km (2,500 ft) a.s.l.

According to news articles, the eruption started on 16 March from two vents, one on Hunga Ha'apai and another about 100 m offshore. Video footage and photographs taken from a nearby boat and posted on 20 March showed repeated dark, ash-rich Surtseyan explosions and associated base surges from two vents. A journalist that visited the area reported that the island was covered with black ash, and coconut trees were reduced to black stumps. Dead birds and fish were seen in the water.

Geologic Background. The small islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha'apai cap a large seamount located about 30 km SSE of Falcon Island. The two linear andesitic islands are about 2 km long and represent the western and northern remnants of the rim of a largely submarine caldera lying east and south of the islands. Hunga Tonga reaches an elevation of about 114 m above sea level, and both islands display inward-facing sea cliffs with lava and tephra layers dipping gently away from the submarine caldera. A rocky shoal 3.2 km SE of Hunga Ha'apai and 3 km south of Hunga Tonga marks a historically active vent. Several submarine eruptions have occurred at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai since the first historical eruption in 1912. An eruption that began in mid-December 2014 built a new island between the other two large islands.

Sources: Agence France-Presse (AFP), Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Infobae