A satellite image shows an enormous cloud of volcanic dust spreading across a vast ocean.

Tonga volcanic eruption is largest recorded explosion since 1883, scientists say

Scientists say the eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the largest explosion documented by researchers since 1883.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption, which was only blamed for six deaths, was similar in size to the Krakatoa explosion in Indonesia in 1883, findings show published in Science.

The Tonga explosion generated pressure waves, called Lamb waves, which traveled horizontally along the Earth’s surface for more than six days, according to the article.

These Lamb waves are usually associated with large atmospheric explosions, such as other volcanic eruptions and nuclear tests.

The Tonga volcanic eruption produced lamb waves similar to those of the Krakatoa eruption which killed more than 30,000 people.

Scientists said nuclear explosions that also created Lamb waves – such as the largest nuclear test in the USSR in 1961 – were similar in magnitude but shorter in duration than large volcanic explosions like the one in Tonga.

This is because volcanic explosions are much more complicated and not as sharp as nuclear explosions.

The January eruption also produced audible sounds that could be heard up to 10,000 kilometers away in Alaska and generated infrasound – sounds that cannot be heard by humans – that echoed around the world.

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Satellite images show the size of the volcanic eruption

Professor Corentin Caudron – co-author of the paper – told the ABC that the researchers used more than 3,000 sensors and instruments around the world, commonly used to detect earthquakes and tsunamis, to arrive at their conclusions.

“What we’ve done, basically, is compare what we’ve extracted, in terms of information, on all of these waves that have propagated around the globe, [and] compare this eruption with others that have happened in the past,” Professor Caudron said.

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