Sat. Aug 13th, 2022

The lingering volcanic plume from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption has rekindled spectacular sunsets over Australia this week.

Recently retired ABC weather presenter Graham Creed saw the impressive skies from his farm in New South Wales.

“The key to it is the volcanic dust from the volcano in Tonga,” he explained.

Yes, from the eruption over a month ago.

Since the initial explosion the plume has been circling around the atmosphere, too high to affect our day-to-day weather, but adding a red glow to sunrises and sunsets.

“It’s a bit like that bushfire smoke back in 2019 that was circulating around the globe,” according to Mr Creed.


The plume has now roughly made its first full loop of the globe and has been traveling across Australia again this week.

“So that’s why we’ve seen these really glowing skies at sunrise and sunset,” Mr Creed said.

“The interesting thing is that at sunset you can actually see the meteorological sunset, which is when the clouds change color but as the sun goes over and it starts to go dark that’s when the volcanic ash was illuminated and was bending and refracting the light. ”

A pink glow over the central coast of Australia
Valentine’s Day dawned with an eerie pink glow on the Central Coast.(Supplied: Fiona Calvert)

Volcanic eruption reached all the way up to the mesosphere

Recent analysis from NASA has found the initial eruption exploded up through the first two layers of the atmosphere – the troposphere and stratosphere – to briefly burst into the third layer of the atmosphere, the mesosphere.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Plume from Tongan volcano eruption recorded by NASA(Supplied by: NASA)

They calculate the eruption rose to 58 kilometers at its highest point.

That is 1.5 times higher than the previous satellite era benchmark, the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines back in 1991 (35 kilometers.)

Despite this initial burst, the majority of the projectiles are now circling the stratosphere.

According to Natural Hazards Consulting’s Andrew Tupper, former manager of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, the plume has become harder to identify as it disperses.

But it is still possible to see the remnants of the Tonga Volcano on lidar imagery taken over eastern Australia earlier this week.

LIDAR image shows band of aerosols above the general clouds.
Earlier this week volcanic aerosols could be seen in the stratosphere over eastern Australia using LIDAR imagery. (Supplied: Andrew Tupper via CALIPSO )

“[It’s] showing us what is probably mostly sulphate aerosols (maybe a bit of volcanic ash) around 25 km in height in the stratosphere, sitting well above the troposphere where the clouds are, “according to Dr Tupper.

This is backed up by haziness on recent satellite imagery.


“In a nutshell – yes – the cloud is in lots of places, including across Australia, and will be helping some very nice sunsets,” Dr Tupper said.

Bright red and orange sunset
Toowoomba was treated to a glowing red sunset on Valentine’s Day. (Supplied: Gavin Dukes)

A sight worth remembering

“It was really a spectacular thing to watch,” Mr Creed said.

“The last time I saw it was when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines.”

Again, that was all the way back in 1991.

Deep pink clouds over Toowoomba
Looking away from the main sunset, Gavin Dukes captured the eerie glow in the sky in Toowoomba.(Supplied: Gavin Dukes)


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