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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Most volcanism on Earth is submarine, but volcanic gas emissions by submarine eruptions are rarely observed and hence largely unquantified. On 15 January 2022 a submarine eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai (HTHH) volcano (Tonga) generated an explosion of historic magnitude, and was preceded by ∼1 month of Surtseyan eruptive activity and two precursory explosive eruptions. We present an analysis of ultraviolet (UV) satellite measurements of volcanic sulfur dioxide (SO2) between December 2021 and the climactic 15 January 2022 eruption, comprising an unprecedented record of Surtseyan eruptive emissions. UV measurements from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) on Suomi-NPP, the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5P, and the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) are combined to yield a consistent multi-sensor record of eruptive degassing. We estimate SO2 emissions during the eruption’s key phases: the initial 19 December 2021 eruption (∼0.01 Tg SO2); continuous SO2 emissions from 20 December 2021—early January 2022 (∼0.12 Tg SO2); the 13 January 2022 stratospheric eruption (0.06 Tg SO2); and the paroxysmal 15 January 2022 eruption (∼0.4–0.5 Tg SO2); yielding a total SO2 emission of ∼0.6–0.7 Tg SO2 for the eruptive episode. We interpret the vigorous SO2 emissions observed prior to the January 2022 eruptions, which were significantly higher than measured in the 2009 and 2014 HTHH eruptions, as strong evidence for a rejuvenated magmatic system. High cadence DSCOVR/EPIC SO2 imagery permits the first UV-based analysis of umbrella cloud spreading and volume flux in the 13 January 2022 eruption, and also tracks early dispersion of the stratospheric SO2 cloud injected on January 15. The ∼0.4–0.5 Tg SO2 discharged by the paroxysmal 15 January 2022 HTHH eruption is low relative to other eruptions of similar magnitude, and a review of other submarine eruptions in the satellite era indicates that modest SO2 yields may be characteristic of submarine volcanism, with the emissions and atmospheric impacts likely dominated by water vapor. The origin of the low SO2 loading awaits further investigation but scrubbing of SO2 in the water-rich eruption plumes and rapid conversion to sulfate aerosol are plausible, given the exceptional water emission by the 15 January 2022 HTHH eruption.

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© 2022 Carn, Krotkov, Fisher and Li. Publisher’s version of record:

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Frontiers in Earth Science

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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