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Tonga volcano ‘hundreds of times’ more powerful than Hiroshima bomb explosion, NASA says

Heavy volcanic ash falls in Nomuka, Tonga. (New Zealand Defense Force/Getty Images/TNS)

The undersea volcano that erupted off the coast of Tonga this month was “hundreds of times” more powerful than the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima in World War II, according to NASA.

The Jan. 15 blast of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which triggered tsunami waves which stretched to the Pacific Coast in the U.S. The eruption, which spewed ash across the many of Tonga islands, was heard as far away as Alaska.

“The blast released hundreds of times the equivalent mechanical energy of the Hiroshima nuclear explosion,” NASA said in a statement. “For comparison, scientists estimate Mount St. Helens exploded in 1980 with 24 megatons and Krakatoa burst in 1883 with 200 megatons of energy.”

“This is a preliminary estimate, but we think the amount of energy released by the eruption was equivalent to somewhere between 4 to 18 megatons of TNT,” NASA’s Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said. “That number is based on how much was removed, how resistant the rock was, and how high the eruption cloud was blown into the atmosphere at a range of velocities.”

The scientists also noted that several small islands that had risen from the sea after a 2015 volcanic eruption were obliterated by the blast, which sent material as far as 25 miles into the atmosphere.


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