Skip to main content

4-foot tsunami hits Tonga after explosive eruption of underwater volcano

NOAA's GOES West satellite captured the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga.
NOAA's GOES West satellite captured the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. (Image credit: NOAA)

A tsunami triggered by the explosive eruption of the underwater Tonga volcano in the Pacific Ocean slammed the shoreline of the Pacific nation Saturday (Jan. 15), sending residents rushing for higher ground, according to news reports. 

A 4-foot-tall (1.2 meters) tsunami reportedly hit Tonga’s capital of Nuku’alofa, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of the underwater volcano.

There have been no reports of injuries, because communication with the nation went down after the eruption, The Associated Press reported. But a local resident said she was inside making dinner when she heard the eruption at about 7 p.m. local time Saturday. "It was massive, the ground shook, our house was shaking. It came in waves, my younger brother thought bombs were exploding nearby," Taufa told Stuff.co.nz, a New Zealand news outlet.

Such intense blasts have the potential to produce tsunamis far from the source. In fact, a tsunami advisory was in effect for the U.S. Pacific Coast and Hawaii, with officials advising people to avoid the beaches and coastline. The Tonga Meteorological Service issued tsunami warnings (which is stronger than an "advisory") for Fiji and Samoa, The New York Times reported.

Here, the satellite camera's infrared channels show volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide gas. (Image credit: NOAA)
(opens in new tab)

Local officials said the powerful underwater eruption had a radius of 161.5 miles (260 km), and sent ash, steam and gas more than 12 miles (20 km) into the air, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The eruption was seven times more powerful than the most recent one of the same volcano on Dec. 20, 2021, NOAA said. 

"This is a pretty big event — it's one of the more significant eruptions of the last decade at least," Shane Cronin, a volcanologist at the University of Auckland, told the BBC.

This article will continue to be updated as more information comes out.

Jeanna Bryner
Jeanna Bryner

Jeanna is the editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.