Tracking Volcanic Ash With Satellites

  • Released Thursday, May 12th, 2016
  • Updated Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 at 12:19AM
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Volcano eruptions can wreak havoc on airplanes that fly through the clouds of ash and sulfur dioxide. The ash, in particular, can destroy a jet engine and even cause it to fail mid-flight. However, it can be difficult to detect the ash clouds, because they often look like ordinary rain clouds on radar and to the pilot's eye. To be cautious, volcanic eruptions are given a wide berth, leading to costly delays and cancellations.

NASA scientist Nickolay Krotkov is developing a new way to map the full three-dimensional structure of the volcanic cloud. The NASA/NOAA/DoD Suomi NPP satellite maps the concentration of sulfur dioxide and volcanic aerosols using the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS). After it passes the volcanic plume, the OMPS Limb Profiler looks backwards and measures the vertical profile of the cloud in three separate slices.

The location and height of the particles, as well as the amount of sulfur dioxide, is being integrated into models of weather patterns to forecast the spread of the volcanic cloud. The high resolution of the vertical profiles allows a more accurate forecast in the days, weeks, and months after an eruption, which could reduce airline cancellations and re-routing costs.

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) following an eruption

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Print still - GEOS-5 model data depicting Sulfur Dioxide (yellow/red) and volcanic ash (white dots) is compared to observed OMPS Limb Extinction data

Color bar for sulfur dioxide (so2) concentration in milligrams per cubic meter

Color bar for sulfur dioxide (so2) concentration in milligrams per cubic meter

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Music: "Dangerous Clouds" by Guy & Zab Skornik [SACEM]


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