Volcanic Eruption Punched a Gap in Earth’s Ozone Layer, Examine Finds

The 2022 eruption of the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Haapai volcano tore a bit out of the Earth’s ozone layer because of the big volumes of water vapor it poured into the ambiance, based on a brand new research revealed within the journal Science.

Located on an island in Tonga, the volcano erupted on January 15 of that yr, releasing 100,000 occasions extra power than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb in its big explosion and matching Mount St. Helens’ energy.

The eruption depleted the ozone layer by as much as 5 % in some areas inside a single week of the occasion.

This was on account of the big volumes of water pumped into the ambiance from the eruption—alongside black ash, hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sulfur dioxide—forming plumes of vapor towering as much as 34 miles excessive.

Screencap from a NASA video exhibiting an umbrella cloud generated by the underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 15, 2022.
NASA Earth Observatory picture by Joshua Stevens utilizing GOES imagery courtesy of NOAA and NESDIS

“In the course of the Hunga Tonga eruption, quite a lot of substances had been launched into the higher ambiance,” Stephanie Evan, lead writer of the research and researcher on the Laboratoire de l’Atmosphère et des Cyclones (LACy), CNRS, Université de La Réunion, instructed Newsweek. “This included water vapor, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and volcanic ash. Particularly, SO2 is a outstanding volcanic fuel that may react with atmospheric water vapor to type volcanic aerosols, primarily composed of sulfuric acid. These aerosols have the capability to scatter daylight, impacting local weather and enjoying a big position in higher atmospheric chemistry, notably with regard to ozone.”

This vapor reacted with various different chemical substances shot out of the volcano, ensuing within the breaking down of O3 ozone within the ambiance above the tropical southwestern Pacific and Indian Ocean areas.

“Volcanic aerosols within the higher ambiance play a big position in ozone chemistry. These aerosols can facilitate chemical reactions that convert sometimes inactive gases into ozone-depleting molecules, notably chlorine atoms,” Evan explains.

“The rise in water vapor following the Hunga-Tonga eruption had a pivotal influence. It raised relative humidity and cooled the higher ambiance, primarily between 25 and 30 km in altitude. This transformation in situations allowed chemical reactions to happen on the surfaces of volcanic aerosols at temperatures greater than their regular vary. The chemical reactions that occurred on the hydrated volcanic aerosols resulted within the creation of reactive chlorine compounds, like chlorine monoxide (ClO), from chlorine compounds that weren’t sometimes energetic, similar to hydrogen chloride (HCl).”

The authors of the research described within the paper how they launched balloons from Réunion Island within the Indian Ocean into the volcanic plume, 5 days after the eruptions, so as to measure the chemical reactions occurring because it floated away into the ambiance.

They discovered that the numerous improve in water vapor and aerosol floor space was accompanied by substantial ozone depletion, at a charge of 0.07ppmv/day [parts per million volume per day]. In addition they decreased concentrations of HCl and elevated ClO, indicating that the chlorine was reacting with O3 ozone, eroding the O3 ranges within the ambiance.

“In easy phrases, the volcanic aerosols enabled the formation of gear that would break down ozone, contributing to its discount. This transformation of chlorine species contributed to the quick discount of ozone within the higher ambiance above the tropical southwestern Pacific and Indian Ocean area within the week after the eruption,” Evan mentioned.

volcano ash plume
A picture from January 16, 2022, reveals the ash plume from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption that occurred the day earlier than. An astronaut took {a photograph} of the plume from the Worldwide Area Station.

Ozone concentrations within the area of the plume was discovered to have decreased quickly by 5 % in a single week. Whereas big, that is nowhere close to the diploma of discount over the Antarctic, the place the ozone gap depletes by round 60 % between September and November annually. The disruption to the ozone over the tropics was uncommon, as this space is often very invariable in ozone thickness.

“One noteworthy facet of the Hunga Tonga eruption was the injection of an unprecedented quantity of water vapor to very excessive altitudes. In the course of the marketing campaign, we noticed water vapor ranges reaching at the least 70 occasions the traditional background ranges,” Evan mentioned. “This improve in water vapor was correlated with a lower in ozone and the presence of aerosol layers. These aerosols facilitated chemical reactions that reworked sometimes inactive gases within the higher ambiance into ozone-depleting molecules, similar to chlorine atoms.”

NASA ozone hole
Antarctic ozone gap on October 4, 2004, utilizing knowledge from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite tv for pc.

The scientists anticipated that the volcanic plume would drift over the Antarctic, additional thinning the outlet over the southern pole of the planet. Nonetheless, observations of the Antarctic ozone gap have proven that it remained unchanged by the volcano.

“Because the volcanic plume from Hunga Tonga traveled over time throughout the tropics, it regularly dispersed. The predominant dispersion of the plume was in the direction of the Southern Hemisphere midlatitudes, primarily because of the large-scale circulation patterns within the higher ambiance,” Evan mentioned. “Throughout this dispersal, the focus of water vapor within the plume decreased. Our analysis signifies that water vapor ranges wanted to be considerably elevated, at round 20 occasions the traditional background ranges, for the chemical reactions on volcanic aerosols that result in ozone destruction. Consequently, because the plume dissipated, and water vapor ranges returned to decrease values by the tip of January 2022, we noticed a cessation of speedy ozone depletion within the NASA satellite tv for pc measurements.”

The authors hope to make use of these findings to additional research how pure disasters would possibly influence the ambiance, and subsequently, local weather change.

“The introduction of a big quantity of water vapor into the higher ambiance, as noticed throughout the Hunga-Tonga eruption, can have a number of implications for local weather change. Water vapor is a potent greenhouse fuel that absorbs warmth within the type of infrared radiation from the Earth’s floor and subsequently re-emits it. Consequently, the injection of such a considerable amount of water vapor is anticipated to contribute to warming within the ambiance for a interval of a number of years till the fuel naturally dissipates,” Evan mentioned.

“Furthermore, the elevated presence of water vapor may have secondary results on atmospheric chemistry, together with processes that affect ozone ranges. Nonetheless, these particular implications weren’t throughout the scope of our research however are at present the topic of ongoing analysis throughout the scientific group.”

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Replace 10/20/23, 8:36 a.m. ET: This text has been up to date with remark from Evan.