Primary and Secondary Gravity Waves and Large-Scale Wind Changes Generated by the Tonga Volcanic Eruption on 15 January 2022: Modeling and Comparison With ICON-MIGHTI Winds

Sharon L. Vadas, Erich Becker, Cosme Figueiredo, Katrina Bossert, Brian J. Harding, L. Claire Gasque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We simulate the primary and secondary atmospheric gravity waves (GWs) excited by the upward movement of air generated by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (hereafter “Tonga”) volcanic eruption on 15 January 2022. The Model for gravity wavE SOurce, Ray trAcing and reConstruction (MESORAC) is used to calculate the primary GWs and the local body forces/heatings generated where they dissipate. We add these forces/heatings to the HIgh Altitude Mechanistic general Circulation Model (HIAMCM) to determine the secondary GWs and large-scale wind changes that result. We find that a wide range of medium to large-scale secondary GWs with concentric ring structure are created having horizontal wind amplitudes of u′, v′ ∼ 100–200 m/s, ground-based periods of τr ∼ 20 min to 7 hr, horizontal phase speeds of cH ∼ 100–600 m/s, and horizontal wavelengths of λH ∼ 400–7,500 km. The fastest secondary GWs with cH ∼ 500–600 m/s are large-scale GWs with λH ∼ 3,000–7,500 km and τr ∼ 1.5–7 hr. They reach the antipode over Africa ∼9 hr after creation. Large-scale temporally and spatially varying wind changes of ∼80–120 m/s are created where the secondary GWs dissipate. We analyze the Tonga waves measured by the Michelson Interferometer for Global High-resolution Thermospheric Imaging (MIGHTI) on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), and find that the observed GWs were medium to large-scale with cH ∼ 100–600 m/s and λH ∼ 800–7,500 km, in good agreement with the simulated secondary GWs. We also find good agreement between ICON-MIGHTI and HIAMCM for the timing, amplitudes, locations, and wavelengths of the Tonga waves, provided we increase the GW amplitudes by ∼2 and sample them ∼30 min later than ICON.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022JA031138
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research A: Space Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • gravity waves
  • ICON-MIGHTI wind
  • thermosphere
  • Tonga eruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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