Haunting Before-and-After Images Show Devastation Wrought by Tonga Volcano

Haunting Before-and-After Images Show Devastation Wrought by Tonga Volcano
Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

The recent eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga was the biggest recorded anywhere on Earth in the past 30 years. A series of before-and-after satellite images highlight the extent of damage to the volcanic island and the neighbouring region.

The new images come courtesy of Maxar Technologies, a space-tech firm based in Westminster, Colorado. Maxar’s satellites collect high-resolution imagery of more than 3.5 million square km each day, making it possible to compare surface features across short timescales. The newly released images of the Tonga volcano and its aftermath are all standard electro-optical images and have not been processed in any special way.

A volcanic island gets obliterated

Image: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherImage: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

This sobering sequence of three images shows the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano on April 10, 2021 before the eruption, on December 24, 2021 after eruptions started up again, and on January 18, 2022, after the big explosion.

Two pre-existing volcanic islands, Hunga Tonga and Hunga-Ha’apai, were joined in 2015 following a series of eruptions. The two islands are once again separated by water but are now even smaller than they were before, as a result of the powerful explosion. Like the tip of an iceberg, these exposed landmasses are the tallest sections of the 2 km-high underwater volcano.

A closer view of the volcano and vent

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

A close-up view captured on April 10, 2021 shows the westernmost portion of the island when it was partially covered in vegetation, followed by the view on January 6, 2022, after the volcano dumped tremendous amounts of ash onto the island. The third image in the sequence, captured on January 18, 2022, shows the shattered remnant of what is now once again the island of Hunga-Ha’apai.

The big eruption of January 15 happened following the partial collapse of the caldera’s northern rim, causing tremendous amounts of water to interact with the magma chamber below, resulting in the explosion.

A port slammed by ash and water

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

This sequence of images shows a port in Nukuʻalofa, the capital city of Tonga. The first image was taken on December 29, 2021, and the second image on January 18, 2022. The violent eruption sent volcanic material some 41 km into the atmosphere while triggering a tsunami that flooded nearby coastlines.

Blackened homes and buildings

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

Before-and-after images taken on December 29, 2021 and January 18, 2022, provide a stark contrast, showing the extent to which ashfall transformed a once-vibrant Tongan neighbourhood. The eruption produced a mushroom-like cloud that enveloped the entire South Pacific island kingdom.

Devastation felt far and wide

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

Maxar also collected satellite imagery of the Tongan islands northeast of the Hunga Tonga-hunga Ha’apai volcano. Many atolls in the region are uninhabited, but some populated regions were heavily damaged as a result of the eruption and tsunami. The gif above shows Nomuka island on August 27, 2020 and then again on January 20, 2022.

A closer view of Nomuka island

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

Here’s a closer view of a populated area on Nomuka island, which is located 70 km to the north of Tonga. A 49-year-old woman from Nomuka died in the tsunami, in addition to a 65-year-old man from nearby Mango island, as The Guardian reports.

Mango island transformed

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

Two very different views of Mango island, one as it appeared on August 17, 2020 and another as it appeared on January 20, 2022. Sadly, 62 residents of the island had to relocate to Nomuka after losing their homes and belongings, and food and water shortages may force them to move yet again, the Guardian reports.

Ravaged by tsunami

Gif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/EartherGif: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Earther

These tragic images shows an inhabited region of Mango island as it appeared before and after the eruption-induced tsunami swept through. It’s hard to believe that more people weren’t killed in the disaster; as it stands, the total death toll stands at five, with three people killed in the Tongan region and two in Peru.

British and Australian navy ships arrived in Tonga on January 26. Crew members did their best to distribute aid without making contact with locals to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The island has been without internet access due to a severed undersea cable, which won’t be fully repaired for at least another two weeks.