Sunday, February 26, 2023

Are we allowed to suggest that Hunga Tonga is the cause of the weather mayhem?

The most powerful volcanic eruption of the 21st century happened on January 22 last year in Tonga.

Scientists measure the force of eruptions using something called the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. (I learned about this from my teenage grandson, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of volcanoes.)

The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai had a VEI of 5 or 6, depending on which source you believe. According to NIWA, it was the biggest atmospheric explosion recorded in more than a century. As a point of comparison, the cataclysmic Oruanui (Lake Taupo) eruption about 26,500 years ago had a VEI of 8. Krakatoa (1883) scored a 6.

The Hunga Tonga (HT) eruption sent atmospheric shockwaves around the globe and was heard as far away as Alaska. The eruption plume rose 58 km, reaching above the stratosphere.

The subsequent tsunamis devastated parts of Tonga, claiming four lives there and even killing two people in Peru. The eruption also wiped out 55 km of undersea cable, but otherwise it aroused relatively little public attention. After all, it was a long way from anywhere in a very sparsely populated part of the globe.

Scientists, however, got very excited about it. An online search turns up numerous academic papers marvelling at the scale of the eruption and assessing its implications.

Why am I writing about this? Simply because I can’t help wondering whether Hunga Tonga might have something to do with the freakish weather the North Island has been enduring.

I can’t recall a wetter, more miserable summer. January rainfall in parts of the North Island was four times higher than normal; Auckland was the wettest ever. Campers, and especially those with kids, will remember 2023 as their annus horribilis.

The February figures will be far worse. We’ve just been through several weeks of catastrophic weather events and they may not yet be over.

In so far as there’s any explanation for these events, they are commonly (if vaguely) attributed to climate change, the implication being that it's human-induced. La Nina and “atmospheric rivers” have been cited, but in such a way as to imply that they are all part of the same pattern. Anyone who dares suggest otherwise, as Maureen Pugh did, risks being put in the stocks. But is there more to it than that?

Before anyone rushes to denounce me, I’m not a climate change denier. I’ m not in a position to deny anything, since I don’t possess the scientific knowledge to make definitive assertions. My own amateur observations tell me the climate is changing; the winters are warmer (we seem to get far fewer frosts in Masterton than 20 years ago) and the frequency of slips on the Remutaka Hill road is a very basic pointer to heavier and more frequent rain. Weather bombs that were once exceptional are now the norm.

Nonetheless, the science on climate change is contradictory and often freighted with ideology – so yes, I’m sceptical. I think journalists and scientists have a duty to be sceptical.

Oh, and another disclaimer: I’m generally clueless when it comes to science. When I began my fifth form year (today’s Year 11) at Central Hawke’s Bay College, I was thrilled to discover that science had quietly been dropped from my curriculum. I was such a no-hoper that my teachers decided, without any consultation, that there was no point wasting my time or theirs. The same thing had happened with maths the previous year.

But while acknowledging I’m an ignoramus, I think I have a legitimate question to ask. Even accepting that the climate is changing, what has happened this summer seems qualitatively different. It has not only been brutal and extreme but abrupt, persistent and viciously repetitive – too much so, surely, to have been simply a continuation of a familiar long-term trend. It just seems too easy – too glib, almost – to put it all down to human-induced climate change.

Which brings me back to Hunga Tonga. Notwithstanding my lack of scholarship, it seems obvious to me from the various academic papers published about the HT eruption that it had meteorological consequences. One study, published by the French National Center for Scientific Research, called it the most remarkable climate event of the past three decades. There’s a clue, right there.

Another paper, published by the American Geophysical Union, had this to say: “The violent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption on 15 January 2022 not only injected ash into the stratosphere but also large amounts of water vapor, breaking all records for direct injection of water vapor, by a volcano or otherwise, in the satellite era.

“The massive blast injected water vapor up to altitudes as high as 53 km. Using measurements from the Microwave Limb Sounder [no, I don’t know what that means either] on NASA's Aura satellite, we estimate that the excess water vapor is equivalent to around 10% of the amount of water vapor typically residing in the stratosphere. Unlike previous strong eruptions, this event may not cool the surface, but rather it could potentially warm the surface due to the excess water vapor.”

The study also notes that “the H2O injection was unprecedented in both magnitude and altitude” and says it may take several years for the water plume to dissipate.

I admit that much of the paper is incomprehensible to me, but am I wrong to assume that a phenomenon of that scale is going to affect weather patterns?

Yet another study, published in Nature Climate Change, similarly noted that the HT eruption had expelled an unprecedented amount of water into the atmosphere and could cause an increase in global surface temperatures lasting several years. So there seems to be some sort of consensus.

I learned that volcanic eruptions can have a profound impact on the weather when, in a past life as a wine writer, I heard New Zealand winemakers bemoaning the Pinatubo years.

The 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo, in the Philippines, had a VEI of 6. It produced what’s called a volcanic winter, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface by 10 percent – hence the challenge of getting grapes to ripen even in distant New Zealand. Pinatubo’s eruption is also thought to have triggered the so-called Storm of the Century in 1993.

Hunga Tonga, being an underwater eruption that produced a plume of water rather than clouds of dust that absorbed sunlight, had a different effect, leading to the predictions of rising global temperatures.

Either way, it seems safe to assume the eruption will have had an effect on the weather. And being a lot closer to New Zealand than Mt Pinatubo, doesn’t it stand to reason that its impact is likely to be more pronounced?

Bearing all this in mind, it doesn’t seem fanciful to suggest that Hunga Tonga might have played a hand in the apocalyptic weather events of the past two weeks. But I wonder if that likelihood is being played down because it conflicts with the human-induced climate change narrative so feverishly promoted by the Greens and now apparently accepted by the National Party – and enforced by sections of the media.

To put it another way, are we in a Fawlty Towers-type scenario where no one's supposed to mention Hunga Tonga? (To quote Basil Fawlty, I just did, but I think I can get away with it.)

There are people who read this blog who are far better informed than I am on matters of science. I would welcome their input, even if it results in my theory being – for want of a better expression – blown out of the water.


ihcpcoro said...

Interesting comments Karl. If there are short term surface temperature increases, you can be sure that the UN will be jumping back on the 'global warming' nag again, after abandoning it a few years ago when shown to be patently wrong. Linear projections from cyclical data, as it always has been with most of the UN funded climate 'experts'.

Spiro Zavos said...

Karl you are not only 'allowed' to suggest that Hunga Tonga might be to blame for the weather mayhem, you have a duty as a journalist to make this observation.

The question that Maureen Pugh was asked, whether she 'believed' in manmade climate change was a religious/political query.

It was not a scientific query.

Science is not about belief.

Science is about evidence and facts.

The facts are that manmade climate change has such a small impact on the climate as to be negible.

The Australian Chief scientist has confirmed that if the world closed down entirely all its industries and every aspect of modern living there would be virtually no impact on the climate.

The political class in New Zealand has accepted a flat-earth approach to science, on climate and biology, that is medieval and wrong.

And the same political class has adopted medieval tactics, the Inquisition and political extermination, to anyone challenging the fake science.

Unforunately, the media and university class, two groups that have a duty to expose fake science have doubled down on this nonsense.

It is obvious to anyone with any sense that that Hunga Tonga has directly affected our climate, in this case to produce weather events that are bordering on the unprecedented.

Odysseus said...

Although, like you Karl, I am not a scientist it seems inconceivable the Tongan eruption has not affected the weather, particularly in the North Island this summer. Australian meteorologists in October 2022 predicted that Eastern Australia would have a "flooded summer" because of its impact, and so it has come to pass. I am more than a little surprised that our "experts" have kept pretty much shtum on the subject. Do they fear upsetting the government's "climate emergency" narrative and having their funding cut as a result?

New Zealand really is a worry.

transpress nz said...

There is a difference between denying that climate change is happening and denying that humans are responsible for it. The Left conflate the two, of course. There has been a lot of climate over recorded history, much of it caused by volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes. Activity of the sun, like 'sunspots' also has a significant effect.

Birdman said...

Now a little meteorological knowledge in the hands of someone like me can be questionable but an observation was made by the TV1 weather guy, Dan Corbett, some weeks ago. It was to the effect that whatever phase the Pacific Ocean is in (I believe La Nina) we are having the one that will bring the current wetter weather.

That's not overly significant but what was more interesting was he said the same was happening in the Indian Ocean, that it was rarer for the two phases to occur together and the impact was therefore greater in bringing about, or at least contributing to, what we are experiencing. The Indian Ocean phase is called the Indian Ocean Dipole and it has 3 phases of positive, negative and neutral and is currently in neutral.

This base information is all easy to find on the internet and it is also the point where I join Karl in exiting as being technically uninformed and asking the scientists who read this blog to put some informed knowledge into the discussion.

Mark Hubbard said...

It's a more than fair question. I saw a Youtube - no longer have a link sorry - of an Australian meteorologist linking Hunga onga eruption squarely to the Melbourne floods, and when you looked at the weather pattern it created, it was this whole region of the Pacific. There was further a report on either Stuff or Herald blaming man-made climate change for Gabrielle, which is lunatic frankly, but they stated because of how the sea warmed up this year: two things, sea temperatures always change with la nina or el nina, but also there's this constant undersea eruption of molten - that means hot - magma coming from Hunga Tonga which, I don't know, but my layman's mind sees as the action of a water heater :)

This eruption has never been even mentioned latterly in Stuff or Herald to my limited knowledge (limited because I refuse to click into them anymore).

Max Ritchie said...

Apparently if we all drive a Tesla (or more likely a Leaf) and we close all the dairy farms the weather will go back to what it was like when we were children. I did train as a scientist. There’s a lot of nonsense being spoken and written. Human produced CO2 may well have an effect but it’s not proven. Plenty of evidence suggests that it has little or no effect - not enough to make a difference. Damaging our economy makes no sense at all. Taking steps to avoid flood damage makes a lot of sense.

Simon Arnold said...

Just an little aside, I do know a bit about the microwave limb sounder on the Aura, and it has a NZ backstory. The MSL measures the microwave signal at the edge (limb) of the atmosphere, and this allows the composition to be derived, e.g. Ozone levels etc.

Now unfortunately the Aura is coming to the end of its life, and there are no immediate plans for replacement. A key issue is that the microwave signal coming into the MLS needs to kept at space (cryogenic) temperatures otherwise the heat corrupts the signal. The cryocoolers are heavy and energy intensive, so we'd need another large satellite mission to replace (US$100s), but without it a valuable time series since 2004 will be lost.

On the other hand NZ has got pretty good at launching CubeSats at low cost but the instrument needs to be seriously slimmed down in cost, size and energy consumption. The good people at Otago Physics (with others) are funded to develop a concept where the microwave photon is rapidly converted into the optical domain where low cost detectors insensitive to heat are available. This allows low cost instruments that can fit on a CubeSat and be launched into a low orbit with a life of perhaps 5 years by the likes of Rocket Lab at a cost in the $100k range.

Aren't you glad you asked!

Declaration on interest I helped get the programme funded and am contracted to give a hand.

Huskynut said...

Not only is it plausibly connected, but was in fact predicted as far back as october:
The metric quoted in a recent Stuff article was the volume of water ejected was equivalent to 58000 olympic-sized swimming pools. That's clearly a vast amount.
Humans contribute to climate change, as does nature. The question should be what is the balance of contribution of each, not the zealots binary either/or construction

Anonymous said...

If we accept that Pinatubo had a fairly large effect on world weather then it seems likely that HT, an eruption of similar size could also affect the weather. Australian meteorologists took the eruption into their predictions for this summer’s weather, ours maybe not so much.
If we accept James Shawn’s assurance that it’s final proof that climate change is here to stay then we should immediately stop any subsidies for green energy and ev’s and put all our efforts into mitigation. Start asking the UN for reparations, go full speed on dairy, gas, oil and coal to improve our current account and start building big bridges and drainage canals to protect agricultural areas like Hawkes Bay.
Any affect of NZ’s CO2 reductions will be meaningless against increases by Chris and India and our politicians have admitted we’re doing it to ‘set an example’. Time to look after ourselves.

Anonymous said...

This long range weather forecast from Oz sort of says it all.
How were there no similar predictions from our lot?

Michael S said...

Yes Karl, I have also read that the Tonga eruption could potentially result in warmer temperatures and wetter weather. However I have also heard the opposite. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the eruption shifted the wind patterns around Antarctica forcing very unusually cold and repeated winds from Antarctica up the east coast of Australia. During the onset the summer until Christmas 2022 and early January, the south-east coast of Australia experienced truly bizarre cold days (and many of them). Wearing a jumper in a Sydney summer is truly extraordinary, and surely that points to the Tonga eruption disrupting the atmosphere.
As for New Zealand's damaging rainfall this summer, it is rather shallow for journalists to immediately shout "climate change" without a shred of scientific evidence. This reaction from the media has become so automated, and it reduces those media "professionals" to the status or "amateur".

Chris Nisbet said...

I've been trying to learn what I can about 'climate change' for many years now and one thing I've figured out is that 'the climate' is far more complex than 'human-caused CO2 emissions are wrecking the climate and we have to do something about it'.
Your question about the Tongan eruption is entirely reasonable, and in a decent environment there should be no problem asking it. The trouble is that MSM and politicians have decided for us that there is only one way to explain any weather event, and it's always 'climate change dunnit'. Just ask Chris Luxon, who says that Gabrielle was the result of 'climate change'. How have we gotten to a point where he can talk obvious nonsense like this without pushback, but you're afraid to ask a reasonable question about the cause of the cyclone, presumably for fear of being labelled a 'denier'?
Personally, I don't know if the eruption had much to do with the cyclone (I actually suspect it'd be difficult to attribute a specific cyclone to the eruption), and really the only reason we're talking much about it at all is that it happened to drift our way. At some point we may be able to see some data showing a change in cyclone strength/frequency after the eruption, but don't hold your breath waiting for MSM to show it to us.

Karl du Fresne said...

I'm not "afraid" to ask the question and I'm not worried about being labelled a denier (I've been called worse). If there's a note of hesitancy in my blog post, it's purely because I admit my limitations on a subject as complex as the climate.

Anonymous said...

The Esk Valley suffered a similar devastating flooding event in 1938, with silt deposits up to 10 feet deep, as reported in local news papers. Interestingly, and in line with your hypothesis, this was preceded by the 1937 Vulcan and Tavurvur dual eruptions in Papua New Guinea, The Vulcan eruption is considered to be one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century. Coincidence?

Doug Longmire said...

Spiro has summed it up very well and other comments above show that it was foretold by Australian media and meteorologists that the Tongan eruption would cause major flooding events.

The obsessive "climate change caused by human CO2 emissions" mantra has become a quasi religious belief system. Any person who challenges it or questions it or asks for proof is an instant heretic (Climate change denier) and is ostracized/ridiculed or in the case of Maureen Pugh, publicly humiliated when all she said was that she was waiting for proof.

You want some proof that CO2 levels are NOT related to global temperatures?
Check out the graph here which shows that over millions of years, CO2 levels have mainly been at 2000 to 7000 ppm, but no relationship with global temperature

Russell Parkinson said...

Hi Karl, I can highly recommend a great little book that simplifies the science (a bit) and is very readable. In it Dr Brady an Australian scientist takes you through everything affecting our climate from Co2 to our position in the universe, its a fascinating read.

Mirrors and Mazes: a guide through the climate debate by Dr Howard Thomas Brady

At the end he concludes that man made warming is not really the problem but for political reasons doesn't expect the world view to change until the next ice age starts.

Doug Longmire said...

Also False Alarm by Bjorn Lomberg is excellent

A longer, but very detailled book well worth a good look, is Green Murder by Ian Plimer.

Of course, both these books contradict the current State Religion which is that we are all causing climate change by contributing to NZ's 0.17% share of human CO2 emissions.

Doug Longmire said...

And, as a footnote let us be clear about that derogatory label "climate change denier"'

I have NEVER met ,talked to, or read about any person who actually denies that climate is a constantly changing natural function. Climate does change. It is changing all the time.

rouppe said...

I've been saying that since Ruapehu got washed out last winter.

No one considers the Tonga eruption. Everyone rushed to climate change.

Terry Morrissey said...

History has proved that climate change exists, but that is not the same as the AGW scam that the IPCC, with their paid corrupt scientists use to blackmail the world while extracting billions of dollars.
Best book I read on the subject was Aircon by Ian Wishart 2009.
"The 'global warming' debate is not really a debate about climatology - it is a debate about
freedom. It is the aim of the growing world-government faction among the international 'classe politique'to take away our hard-won freedom and democracy forever. I commend this timeley book, which makes the scientific arguments comprehensible to the layman. Those who read it will help to forestall the new Facists and so keep us free."
Lord Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Benchley.
former adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Doug Longmire said...

I agree, Terry.
"Air Con" is excellent.
I would have included it in my short list above, but I thought that the fact it was written in 2009 might have put some readers off.

JayBee said...

This is not the first time that a volcano has had a disastrous effect on the earth's climate. It has happened before, leading to what is called 'mini ice ages': The real disaster here in NZ is that an opposition MP can't ask a question on behalf of all NZ'ers, without the media and her own party jumping on her. The science on climate change isn't settled at all, more so because it is so obviously manipulated. An even bigger disaster is that National allows our corrupt mainstream media to set the agenda on something as important as this. What gives them the right? They are not elected.

Doug Longmire said...

Just to summarise the FACTS:-

The IPCC is consistently wrong in it's predictions of doom.
None of their predictions have come true:-

1/ No 50 million climate refugees by 2010, as they forecast in 2005.
2/ No increase in rate of sea level rising.
3/ Artic Ice is still there, and not melting away
3/ Antarctic Ice is actually growing.
4/ Extreme weather events, world-wide are NOT increasing.
5/ Forest fires, world-wide, are not increasing.
6/ Yes - the planet is slowly warming, in fits and starts, as it emerges from the Little Ice Age of 300 years ago, when the river Thames and the English Channel almost froze over.
7/ The IPCC has recently admitted that it’s multiplying factor used in all their “computer models” is wrong, and all their predictions up till now have been highly exaggerated.

Added to this, the increase in CO2 levels from 280 to 400 ppm, is a major benefit to the world, because (food) crops are more productive, and previous arid areas in the world are greening up.

The fact is that climate change is a natural planetary cycle, and the planet is currently warming up as it emerges from the Little Ice Age of several hundred years ago. The Medieval Warm Period approx 1100A.D. was about 2 degrees warmer than now. During this time, the Vikings settled in the lush meadows of Greenland, and grew crops etc.
Then the Little Ice Age came in about 1400 - 1700 A.D. and temperatures to about 2 degrees COLDER than now (i.e. a difference of 4 degrees)
Greenland froze over. The Vikings left Greenland, and the River Thames froze over every winter (grand carnivals were held on frozen River Thames) and the English Channel was almost frozen over.
The planet is now emerging from this cold spell. Melting glaciers in Greenland are now exposing relics of Viking settlement that were buried in ice. Also - glaciers in other parts of the world which were formed or showed growth during the Little Ice Age, (For example New Zealand’s glaciers) are slowly melting. A NATURAL CYCLE !!!

I can provide references for all the above

Trev1 said...

Doug Longmire, you are correct, the recent minor warming which appears to have paused over the last decade, is part of a natural cycle. It baffles me how people have uncritically swallowed the man-made climate change fraud. Constant repetition I guess. The tragedy is these idiots want to destroy our economy and plunge people into poverty and may succeed in doing so.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Karl. I'm not a scientist and I'm not terribly bright, all I can tell you is that I wish it would stop snowing here in the Sierra. I know a lot of people who've lived here a very long time and none can remember a sustained blizzard like this. I have just enough intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills to draw the same conclusions.