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High-level eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, tsunami warning issued, Tonga


Another high-level eruption started at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga at 15:20 UTC on January 13, 2022. A plume of gas and ash rose rapidly to an estimated height of 16.7 km (55 000 feet) above sea level by 17:42 UTC, according to the Wellington VAAC.

  • According to the Tonga Geological Service, the eruption has lasted for more than 12 hours with eruptive plume reaching a height of 20 km (65 600 feet) and dispersing over Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai group.
  • This is the largest in a series of eruptions at the volcano since December 2021.
  • Tsunami waves of up to 30 cm (1 foot) were recorded at tidal gauges in Nuku’alofa.

The eruption forced officials to issue a tsunami warning for all the islands of the Kingdom of Tonga at 11:12 LT on January 14, advising people to stay out of the water and away from the coast after swirling abnormal tides drew crowds to the Nuku’alofa waterfront.1

Unusual tide activity was also reported in Ha’apai.

Eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 13, 2022 (VIS). Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

“Based on the abnormal tide observation reported from the town officer of Mango island and the Nuku’alofa marine and ports and its relevance to the ongoing volcanic eruption in the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai area, A TSUNAMI MARINE WARNING IS NOW INFORCE FOR TONGA,” the Tonga Meteorological Service (TMS) said in the warning.2

“Public are advised to keep away from low-lying coastal areas, reefs and beaches. Mariners out at sea are advised to prepare to move to deep water.”

Image credit: TMS

According to the Public Notice issued by the Tonga Geological Services (TGS) at 07:20 LT today, a volcanic plume of ash, steam and gas was detected in satellite images acquired between 04:20 and 06:20 LT (15:20 – 17:20 UTC, January 13). 

“Himawari-8 satellite detected ash plume at an altitude of 5 – 20 km (16 400 – 65 600 feet) above sea level.”

Image credit: JMA/Himawari-8
Eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai at 18:50 UTC on January 13, 2022. Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

All Tongan civil servants were instructed to go home or find safety this afternoon (January 14, LT) as Government offices closed at 13:30 LT, due to the tsunami warning in force.3 Only essential staff was instructed to remain at their post.

“There is no need for any evacuation but people are asked to keep away from beaches and low lying coastlines, avoid going for a swim or fishing,” TMS said.

The maximum tsunami wave recorded in the Nuku’alofa tide gauge at 12:30 LT on January 14 (23:30 UTC, January 13) was about 30 cm (1 foot).

Sea level fluctuation was expected to continue for the next 12 – 24 hours.

​Image credit: TMS

“The first lightning in the latest eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga-Haapai was detected at 15:34 UTC,” meteorologist Chris Vagasky said at 22:04 UTC on January 13.

“Since then, GLD360 has detected more than 86 000 lightning events, with rates exceeding 10 000 per hour – the most extreme I’ve ever seen.”


A plume of ash, steam and gas has dispersed at a radius of 250 km (155 miles) from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai Volcano over Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Vava’u and Ha’apai group, TGS said at 23:45 UTC, adding that if anyone feels stingy on the eyes or irritation, these are signs of ash in the air.

“If dark-colored particles are observed on outdoor surfaces at a large scale, it may also be a sign of ashfall. People are advised to stay indoors and to protect their rainwater harvestings.”

Tonga Police are continuing patrols along the Nuku’alofa seafront to keep the coastal area clear of sightseers.4

The Tsunami Marine Warning remains in force for the ‘otu Mu‘omu‘a in Ha‘apai (Nomuka, Mango, Fonoifua), ‘Atataa, ‘Eueiki, Tongatapu and ‘Eua coastal areas and waters.

The Tsunami Marine Warning previously in force for the Niuas, Vava‘u, Kauvai Ha’ano, Pangai Lifuka and Ha’apai Lulunga coastal areas and waters is now canceled.

Eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 13, 2022 (VIS+SO2). Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

Eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 13, 2022 (VIS+CT). Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

The last eruption of this volcano started on December 19, 2014, and ended on January 23 (± 3 days), 2015 (VEI 2).

The eruption created a new island — the site of this latest eruption.5

Geological summary

The small islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai cap a large seamount located about 30 km (18 miles) SSE of Falcon Island.

The two linear andesitic islands are about 2 km (1.2 miles) long and represent the western and northern remnants of the rim of a largely submarine caldera lying east and south of the islands.

Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai reach an elevation of only 149 m (488 feet) and 128 m (419 feet) above sea level, respectively, and display inward-facing sea cliffs with lava and tephra layers dipping gently away from the submarine caldera.

A rocky shoal 3.2 km (2 miles) SE of Hunga Ha’apai and 3 km (1.8 miles) south of Hunga Tonga marks the most prominent historically active vent.

Several submarine eruptions have occurred at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai since the first historical eruption in 1912.6


1 Marine tsunami warning for Tonga coastal areas, as volcanic eruption likely – Matangi Tonga Online

2 Tsunami Marine Warning for Tonga No: 02 Issued at 03:26pm on 14 January 2022 – NATIONAL TSUNAMI WARNING CENTRE

3 Tonga Gov’t closes due to tsunami warning in force – Matangi Tonga Online

4 Volcanic plume of ash, steam and gas over Tonga – Matangi Tonga Online 

5 New island being formed by Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption – The Watchers

6 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai – Geological summary – GVP

Featured image: Eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai at 18:50 UTC on January 13, 2022. Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

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