HomeEarthTonga volcano 'afterglow' causes dazzling skies in Antarctica

Tonga volcano ‘afterglow’ causes dazzling skies in Antarctica

Antarctica New Zealand science technician Stuart Shaw, who is stationed at Scott Base for the winter, took these breathtaking photos of the skies above the icy continent.

Antarctica is nearly continuously dark in mid-winter, with the exception of a slight ‘nautical twilight’ at around midday, which means the horizon is faintly visible in good conditions. This year, however, we were treated to quite a show, with most of the station personnel grabbing jackets and running outside with their cameras to take in the amazing colours. I haven’t edited these shots either, and they are pretty much as we saw them. It’s amazing, “Mr. Shaw stated.

He was inspired to share the images after seeing an NIWA story about unusually pink skies in New Zealand caused by remnant aerosols in the stratosphere from the Tongan volcanic eruption in January, which made him realise he was seeing the same effect at the bottom of the world.

According to NIWA forecaster Nava Fedaeff, satellite lidar (laser radar) data shows an abundance of aerosols in the stratosphere between 15 and 24 kilometres above Antarctica that were not present prior to the eruption.

“Stratospheric aerosols can circulate the globe for months after a volcanic eruption, scattering and bending light as it dips or rises below the horizon, creating a pink, blue, purple, and violet glow in the sky. The colour and intensity of these volcanic twilights are determined by the amount of haze and cloudiness along the path of light reaching the stratosphere “Ms. Fedaeff stated.

The aerosols are mostly sulphate particles, but because this is an undersea eruption, water vapour droplets and sea salt are also likely.

“Nature never fails to put on a show in Antarctica, and it can be beautiful or destructive,” says Jordy Hendrikx, Chief Science Advisor at Antarctica New Zealand.

“These photographs capture the awe it inspires, as well as the interconnectedness of our planet. Antarctica is 5000 kilometres from New Zealand and 7000 kilometres from Tonga, but we share the skies.”

“What happens in Antarctica affects us at home, and vice versa. Much of the research we fund aims to better understand the dynamics of the atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems, as well as the connectivity between Antarctica, New Zealand, and the rest of the world.”


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