A volcanic eruption in the island nation of Tonga on Jan. 15 appears to dwarf the largest nuclear detonations ever conducted, NPR reported on Saturday.
Ronan Le Bras, a geophysicist with the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, said the shock wave was detected as far away as Antarctica.
"Every single station picked it up," he says. "It's the biggest thing that we've ever seen."
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization was established in 1996 as a global network to monitor nuclear weapon tests. The treaty has not taken effect yet, but a preparatory committee was established in 1997, headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
In the past, the network has picked up North Korea's underground nuclear tests and radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Margaret Campbell-Brown, a physicist at the University of Western Ontario, said she thinks it was as large as the 50 megatons Soviet nuclear test in 1961.
"A very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the energy was around 50 megatons," Campbell-Brown said. "We haven't done the real analysis that it would need, but it doesn't seem like it would be smaller."
Jim Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, is more cautious.
"We have to be careful to compare it to a nuclear explosion because it's a different process," Garvin said. "When the teams all get together and put these numbers together, the energy balance will come out."
So far, the government of Tonga has reported three deaths as a result of the eruption, with dozens of homes and structures damaged by an ensuing tsunami, according to NPR.
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