May 17, 2022 5:27 pm

Noctilucent cloud burst in southern Tonga and volcano

Did the Tonga volcano cause a Noctilucent Cloud (NLC) outburst? Scientists try to find the answer

Francis Martin Leon 2 min
Noctilucent cloud sequence from January 14-23, 2022. NASA

However, new data from NASA’s AIM spacecraft confirm that something happened in the mesosphere. This 8-day sequence shows NLCs blooming around the South Pole after the volcano erupted.

NLCs are the tallest clouds on Earth. They form when water vapor rises from Earth to the edge of space where H2O molecules can stick to specks of meteor dust. NLCs are literally icy meteor smoke.

The NLCs as of January 25, 2022 surrounding the entire South Pole and large areas of Antarctica. POT

On January 15, 2022, the Tonga volcano released a column of ash, sulfurous aerosols and water vapor more than 55 km high, just 30 km below where the NLCs form. In the days following the eruption, the natural outcrop may have carried water vapor the rest of the way to the noctilucent zone.

The data of Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) from NASA show that the time in the mesosphere (where the NLCs are located) did change days after the eruption. Temperatures dropped and water vapor increased, As shown in the following figure.

Changes in temperature, left, and water vapor, right, estimated by satellite in the mesosphere.

Both changes enhance noctilucent clouds. But was Tonga responsible? We do not know it yet. The researchers examine the data for a direct link. Stay tuned.

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