Recreating the Hunga Tonga-Hung Ha’apai Volcano Debris Cloud

About three weeks ago, the volcano Hunga Tonga-Hung Ha’apai began a powerful eruption that is still ongoing. The volcano is in the southern Pacific Ocean about 40 miles north of the country of Tonga. The eruption peaked on January 15, 2022 with a series of two massive blasts, sending ash and debris over 100,000 feet into the air and releasing the energy equivalent of somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000 kilotons of TNT, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. By comparison, the yield of the first atomic bomb, Little Boy, was the equivalent of a mere 15 kilotons of TNT. The blast devastated the island, splitting it in two, and unleashed powerful tsunamis.

Numerous Earth-observing satellites documented the eruption, including this image taken by an astronaut aboard the ISS.

What does this have to do with AGI? Well, we can see and reproduce the debris cloud within STK! Volcanic ash observations have enormous scientific and operational value, from improving our understanding of how our Earth’s natural phenomena work to ensuring we can minimize the deleterious effects of ash on activities such as air travel.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department collects and distributes satellite imagery bundles from the NOAA’s GOES satellites. AGI compiles them and makes them available for visualization and analysis using STK Premium (Space) and STK Premium (Air). We’ve created some animations of the volcanic eruption within STK, and you can clearly see the two major blasts coming off the volcano.

To do it yourself, enable the Clouds.cld file in the Globe Manager. If you’re connected to the internet, STK will download the most recent cloud images and display them in your 3D Graphics Window. If you’re not, you can download them from another computer at this FTP site. The cloud files are updated about every three hours, as they become available. You can also enable them for analysis with EOIR sensors using the EOIR Configuration Atmospheric Model or even bring in your own models. Check out this article for more detailed information.

Putting the striking pictures and videos aside, unlocking the ability to visualize and model analytical clouds within STK can be a powerful tool for understanding how Earth’s weather can affect optical observations.



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Systems Tool Kit (STK)

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