loading page

Out of the blue: volcanic SO2 emissions during the 2021-2022 Hunga Tonga - Hunga Ha’apai eruptions
  • +1
  • Simon Carn,
  • Nickolay Krotkov,
  • Bradford Fisher,
  • Can Li
Simon Carn
Michigan Technological University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Nickolay Krotkov
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Author Profile
Bradford Fisher
Science Systems and Applications
Author Profile
Can Li
University of Maryland
Author Profile


The January 15, 2022 phreatomagmatic eruption of the submarine 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 January 15, 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 SO2 emissions during the eruptive sequence. We estimate SO2 emissions during the key phases of the eruption: the initial December 19, 2021 eruption (~0.01 Tg SO2); continuous SO2 emissions from December 20, 2021-early January 2022 (~0.12 Tg SO2); the January 13, 2022 stratospheric eruption (0.06 Tg SO2); and the paroxysmal January 15, 2022 eruption (~0.4-0.5 Tg SO2); yielding a total SO2 emission of ~0.6-0.7 Tg SO2 for the entire 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 January 13, 2022 eruption, and also tracks early dispersion of the stratospheric SO2 cloud injected by the January 15 eruption. The ~0.4-0.5 Tg SO2 discharged by the paroxysmal January 15, 2022 HTHH eruption is low relative to other eruptions of similar magnitude, and a review of previous submarine eruptions of the satellite era indicates that such modest SO2 yield may be characteristic of these events, with the emissions and atmospheric impacts likely dominated by water vapor (WV). 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 highly plausible, given the exceptional WV emission measured in the January 15, 2022 HTHH eruption.
13 Sep 2022Published in Frontiers in Earth Science volume 10. 10.3389/feart.2022.976962