February 22, 2024

Mapping the Magma Chambers under Hunga Volcano Pre and Post 2022 Eruption

A research team comprising geologists, volcanologists, and Earth scientists from renowned institutions such as Carnegie Institution for Science, Earth and Planets Laboratory (USA), GNS Science, Wairakei Research Center (New Zealand), Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand), University of Auckland (New Zealand), and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (Tonga) has successfully conducted partial mapping of the magmatic system beneath the Hunga volcano both before and after its eruption in 2022.

In a recently published article in the journal Science Advances, the team elaborates on their usage of two different technologies to gain a deeper understanding of the magma reservoirs found beneath this South Pacific volcano.

The eruption of the Hunga volcano occurred in January 2022, resulting in a massive release of energy. The eruption was so substantial that the volcano’s caldera entirely collapsed, the plume extended up to 58 kilometers into the mesosphere, and the subsequent tsunami affected the coastlines of the United States and Japan. However, due to the underwater nature of the volcano, studying it and its eruption has been a challenging endeavor. Nevertheless, this research team has employed a novel approach to investigate the magma chambers lying beneath this volcano.

Given the difficulties associated with deploying traditional sonar equipment in underwater environments, the research team opted to analyze data from highly sensitive satellites capable of measuring minute changes in sea levels worldwide. By monitoring slight variations in the sea levels above a volcano, caused by the presence of magma within chambers, the researchers were able to estimate the quantity of magma and map the size of these chambers.

Consequently, the team analyzed data obtained from satellite radar pulses as well as multibeam bathymetry for the respective region. By combining information from these two sources, the researchers were able to generate partial maps of the magma chambers beneath the volcano before and after the eruption, facilitating a comparative study.

Upon analyzing the maps, the team discovered the existence of three distinct pockets of magma beneath the volcano. Two of these pockets were identified as being filled with liquid magma, while the third was primarily composed of solidifying mush. Additionally, it was observed that the majority of the magma involved in the eruption originated from a central chamber. Remarkably, around 30% of the contents of this central chamber were expelled during the eruption, ultimately leading to the caldera’s collapse.

Furthermore, the research team detected evidence of a channel that connects the two liquid-filled chambers. This channel was responsible for replenishing a significant portion of the magma lost from the central chamber. The researchers anticipate that the continued analysis of satellite data will unveil more intricate details regarding the nature of the chambers beneath the Hunga volcano.

In conclusion, this collaborative research effort has successfully employed satellite data to partially map the magmatic system beneath the Hunga volcano in both pre and post-eruption scenarios. The findings have shed light on the existence of three magma chambers, the primary source of the eruption, and the caldera’s collapse. Continued analysis of satellite data holds promise for further revelations about the volcano’s magma chambers.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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