Tongan volcano eruption puts flights on hold

All international flights to the small island nation of Tonga have been cancelled after the underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano sent up a huge plume of ash this week.

Satellite image of the volcano, taken 29 December 2014. Credit: NASA
Satellite image of the volcano, taken 29 December 2014. Credit: NASA

GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott tells TVNZ that volcanic activity has been recorded for several weeks in a stretch of ocean and islands north of the capital, Nuku’alofa, and that the recently developed flight hazards were caused by wind shifts.

The volcano began erupting on December 19, 2014, but only a tall white steam plume emerged from the ocean over the undersea volcanic mount, until now. Airline carriers are hoping at least some flights to the Pacific archipelago will resume on Wednesday.

Volcanic ash can damage jet engines and, in worse case scenarios, cause them to flame out. Read previous SMC commentary on volcanic ash and jet engines here.

The event has been widely covered in both national and international media:

NZ City: Tongan volcano cancels flights
New Zealand Herald: Tongan volcano eruption puts flights on alert Tongan volcano ash risk for South Pacific flights
NewstalkZB: Tonga eruption cancels Air NZ flights
Otago Daily Times: Flights hit by Tonga eruption
TVNZ: Flights cancelled as volcano erupts in Tonga
ABC News: Volcanic Eruption Causes Cancellation of Flights to Tonga
SBS News: Tonga flights cancelled as volcano erupts
Reuters: Blood-red sea as underwater volcano erupts off Tonga, ash delays flights
Shanghai Daily: Air New Zealand cancels flights as volcano plume rises over Tonga