An Underwater Volcanic Eruption Triggers Various Tsunami Warnings and Surges Across the Pacific

Words by Marissa Neely • Photo by Chris Neely

An underwater volcano erupted on Saturday, January 15th, near the remote nation of Tonga, which triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific causing strong waves and currents in many coastal areas.

The booming sound of the eruption was heard from as far away as New Zealand which is approximately 1,100 miles northeast of the nation’s main island of Tongatapu, which has a population of 107,533. There were no immediate official reports on the extent of injuries or damages, but internet service in the country was disrupted, according to The Associated Press, making it difficult to assess at the time.

In the United States, officials urged residents of coastal communities in much of the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii to stay away from the coastline and move to higher ground as soon as possible. Since the initial advisory message went out there were numerous news stations covering the event and nearly all of the coverage mentioned Santa Cruz, California, where ASJ is headquartered.

The scene was eerily similar to the 2011 tsunami surge that was a result of an earthquake in Japan. Which is perhaps why the city officials were quick to act, evacuating people from the docks in the early hours and later in the day closed access to the harbor. Throughout the day, locals lined up to watch the surge roll in and out of the harbor. Residents shared their experiences online from (what we hope was) a safe distance. A number of cars were flooded in the upper harbor and there was damage to some boats and docks, but when it was all said and done, the 2022 version caused much less damage than the 2011 tsunami surge.  

My partner Chris and I live aboard our sailboat in Ventura Harbor, California, where we saw tidal swings up to 6 feet. Although our harbor remained relatively unscathed in comparison to my hometown of Santa Cruz, there was still damage that occurred to a handful of vessels during the aggressive surging. Fortunately, no injuries have been reported at this time.

As the commotion has begun to calm down in our “neck of the sea,” our thoughts are with those who are directly impacted by this event. For more information on this tsunami please visit Tsunami Warning Centers. Stay safe out there!

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