Volcanic eruption eroded patch of Earth’s ozone layer

The 2022 eruption of the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Haapai volcano tore a chunk out of the Earth’s ozone layer due to the huge volumes of water vapor it poured into the atmosphere, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Situated on an island in Tonga, the volcano erupted on Jan. 15, 2022, releasing 100,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and matching Mount St. Helens’ power.

The eruption depleted the ozone layer by up to 5 percent in some regions of the south-western Pacific and Indian Ocean within a single week of the event.

This was as a result of the enormous volumes of water pumped into the atmosphere from the eruption – alongside black ash, hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sulfur dioxide-forming plumes of vapor towering up to 34 miles high.

This vapor reacted with a number of other chemicals shot out of the volcano, resulting in the breaking down of ozone in the atmosphere above the tropical southwestern Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, where the ozone layer is typically stable.

“Major volcanic eruptions can inject gases and particles into the stratosphere (approximately 9 to 31 miles above Earth’s surface) where the protective ozone layer resides. It is fairly common to see short-term ozone losses following a major eruption as a result of reactions involving volcanic aerosol and chlorine,” Laura Revell, an associate professor of physical and chemical sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said in the statement.

The authors of the study described in the paper how they launched balloons from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean into the volcanic plume, five days after the eruptions, in order to measure the chemical reactions occurring as it floated away into the atmosphere.