Tonga eruption coverage

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United States

Publishing organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-01-18

Language: English

Authors: Anand Katakam, Simon Scarr, Jitesh Chowdhury, Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa, Wen Foo and Manas Sharma


The Reuters graphics team publishes visual stories and data visualisations. The team typically covers all areas of the news, with content ranging from climate change to financial markets. Many of the pieces are conceptualised, researched, and produced by the graphics team.

Project description:

In January 2022, a massive eruption of an underwater volcano in the South Pacific sent a shockwave around the world, produced a ash plume that soared high into the atmosphere and triggered tsunami waves across the region – slamming into the island of Tonga.

The team covered the initial breaking news and contextualised the scale of the event by reprojecting a time series of images of the ash cloud, placing it over major land masses to show its scale. Reconnecting the island’s communications became the next major story. We analysed the scale of the lightning storm that followed the eruption.

Impact reached:

The set of projects were shared widely on social media and became one of the most in-depth explanations published on what had happened near Tonga.

Techniques/technologies used:

Python and GDAL were used to process massive amounts of geospatial data. QGIS was also used for some analysis as well as producing some of the maps, which were styled in Adobe creative suite. D3 and javascript were also used to build out some maps and animations.

The team worked closely with scientists to ensure absolute accuracy when explaining the events. We worked with some external contacts to source unique and exclusive data sets such as the lightning strikes.

Context about the project:

Following the eruption, Tonga was inaccessible. Communication lines to the outside world were also severed. There was no easy way to report on the story. We were able to access many sources of information to string together a coherent story on what happened. We spent a considerable amount of time looking at satellite imagery that could assist us in telling the story.

We also worked as a distributed team for these stories. We worked across multiple time zones and home offices to coordinate the story. Each team member was managing an element that had to be brought together in final production.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

These stories took concerted effort as a team to produce. Each member of the team brought their skills to this collective production. This is especially true for the breaking news piece that was produced under very tight deadlines.

Despite the challenge of having no access to events happening on the ground, it is still possible to produce in-depth journalism to help inform a global audience.

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