Tonga volcanic eruption
On the night of 14-15 January 2022 (Italian time), a powerful explosion shook the kingdom of Tonga and the entire Pacific Ocean. The volcano on the island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai suddenly erupted, with a force equivalent to a 10 megaton bomb. In a few moments, the small islands of the archipelago were entirely cut off from the rest of the world: no internet, no telephone lines. Without connections, it is virtually impossible to understand what has happened. The plume of smoke, which reaches a height of 35 km in the atmosphere, is immediately detected by the American and Japanese meteorological satellites which raise the alarm.
Estimated affected population
The importance of acting now
In a short time, our team starts to work, activated by the European Copernicus system, with the aim of quantifying – an initial estimate – the damage from such a catastrophic event. As soon as they were available, our team processed the first high-resolution satellite images of urban centres. In the space of few hours from the acquisition a detailed map is rendered available for the main involved island, even before any other aerial or marine reconnaissance can be completed at the event site.
Helping where it is needed
Thanks to our first rapid mapping, we were able to support the very first emergency operations helping more than 80,000 people, potentially affected by the tsunami and the volcanic ash deposition. The most imminent needs to be met were the water shortage (contaminated by the ash) and the ash removal itself from the airport tracks, to allow the first emergency planes to take off and land.
Satellite images: Himawari 8 (15/01/2022): NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration e JMA – Japanese Meteorological Agency.
Aerial images: NZDF – The New Zealand Defence Force.
Our team produced two ‘overview’ maps – illustrating the general picture – and 18 detailed maps of the most affected areas. An effort that required our best expertise and resources, the total involvement of our team and non-stop shifts over 24 hours, providing an indispensable tool for the local Civil protection and assistance services to the affected populations. Thanks to data processing form Copernicus satellites imagery, we were able to arrive quickly where it would not be possible by any other means or tools.
Speed and responsiveness in humanitarian assistance after a disaster are crucial elements to saving more lives and – in this case – we have demonstrated how extremely relevant and real this statement is.