Published on 11 February 2022
High-resolution imagery from the Sentinel-2 mission of the European Union’s Copernicus Programme helped to activate a global collaboration – that of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters – which accelerates crisis management efforts by making satellite data freely available to the humanitarian community.
The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano – which is located about 30 kilometres southeast of Tonga's Fonuafo'ou island – first erupted on the morning of 14 January, with a second explosion taking place on 15 January at around 5:26pm local time, according to local reports. Thought to be one of the most powerful eruptions in the past 30 years, the blast fired plumes of ash, dust and steam 20 kilometres into the air, and gave rise to damaging tsunamis that hit Tonga's island groups, as well as Hawaii and Japan.
The island nation’s capital of Nukuʻalofa – located on the north coast of the island of Tongatapu – was engulfed by the tsunami and ash clouds caused by the eruption, resulting in extensive damage to vital infrastructure, including water supplies, transport routes and communications networks.
Requested by the UN Institute for Training and Research on behalf of UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNITAR), the disaster charter was activated on 15 January, just over 24 hours after the first eruption.
The activation was managed by the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) team of UNITAR, as well as a group of value-adding partners, including providers from the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) with whom the International Charter has a cooperation scheme. It drew on data generated by numerous international Earth observation missions – including Copernicus Sentinel-2 – to deliver detailed pictures of how the disaster impacted Tonga.