Expert: Limited climate impact of Tonga eruption

A Japanese expert said ash plumes and other products sent into the atmosphere by the massive volcanic eruption in Tonga are expected to have only a limited impact on Earth’s climate.

But he says detailed analysis will be needed to find out more. Large amounts of volcanic material drifting high in the atmosphere could temporarily cool the planet.

The underwater volcano erupted on January 15, spewing large amounts of volcanic products into the air. They reached the stratosphere, a layer in the atmosphere more than 10 kilometers high.

Satellite data from the US space agency NASA shows ash, sulfur dioxide and other material reaching up to 30 kilometers above Earth.

Takemura Toshihiko is Professor of Climate Change at the Applied Mechanics Research Institute of Kyushu University.

Takemura referred to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines which sent large amounts of volcanic products into the stratosphere. He says they weakened the sunlight reaching Earth, lowering its average temperature by about 0.5 degrees Celsius.

This is believed to have led to a reduction in the rice harvest in Japan.

But he says preliminary analysis by foreign experts shows the amount of sulfur dioxide released when Tonga erupted was about one-50th that of Pinatubo.

Takemura says preliminary analysis so far indicates that the impact of the Tonga eruption on Earth’s overall temperature may be limited.

He says that because it was an underwater eruption, much of the ash may not have reached high altitudes because it contained water. He also says that seawater may have absorbed sulfur dioxide to some degree.

Takemura says he plans to carry out a detailed analysis to determine the extent of the possible impact and the areas that could be affected.

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