Hunga Tonga Eruption Seabed Mapping Project
NIWA and The Nippon Foundation are undertaking a mission to discover the undersea impacts of the recent Tongan volcanic eruption. NIWA scientists are sailing to Tonga to survey the ocean around the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai (HT–HH) volcano and surrounding regions. They will survey thousands of square kilometers of the seafloor and collect video images of the eruption’s impact from NIWA’s research vessel, RV Tangaroa, and using SEA-KIT International’s USV Maxlimer to conduct further mapping.
The NIWA-Nippon Foundation Tonga Eruption Seabed Mapping Project (TESMaP) is being funded by The Nippon Foundation–the largest nonprofit organization based in Japan, which, among other philanthropic activities, has been facilitating projects in the ocean field since 1962. The research is also supported by The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project, which aims to map the world’s ocean floor by 2030.
Scientists will gather acoustic data using echosounders to determine the shape and structure of the underwater landscape, including the thickness of ash deposits and the formation of any new bedforms. The data will then be compared with previous maps to identify areas for sampling, so that further changes to the area, such as impacts to marine life and the seafloor’s chemical composition, can be assessed.
The eruption was unprecedented and unexpected; volcanos of this type were not previously anticipated to erupt so violently or trigger such large explosions. There are similar volcanos around the world, particularly along the Pacific Ring of Fire, and the eruption of HT–HH highlights a risk to society from our lack of knowledge about them. This research is vital to help protect people from similar natural disasters in the future.