Scientists Are Racing to Understand the Fury of Tonga’s Volcano

On December 20, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai—an underwater volcano in the South Pacific topped with a diminutive and uninhabited island—awoke from a seven-year slumber. The volcano spluttered and crackled, creating a large plume of ash. Ten thousand miles away, in England, Simon Proud, a satellite data researcher at the University of Oxford, began to monitor the twitching volcano using an array of satellites.

As 2021 ticked into 2022, what had appeared to be the beginnings of an almighty eruption seemingly calmed down. Then, early in the morning on January 14 local Tongan time, a 12-mile-high plume of ash pierced the sky. The volcano became increasingly turbulent, and hundreds of lightning discharges

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