Yorkshire volcanic ash helps to improve flight safety forecasts

Dr Graeme Swindles on a fieldwork trip at Malham Tarn Moss, Yorkshire Dales, where microscopic ash layers from prehistoric eruptions in Iceland were found. Credit: Paul J. Morris

Predictions of where planes can safely fly following volcanic eruptions could be improved, thanks to fresh discoveries about ash clouds.

To study the size of ash grains and how far they can travel, scientists at the Met Office and the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh and Iceland, compared grains recovered from recent Icelandic eruptions – including samples recovered in Yorkshire – with satellite measurements of ash clouds.

Their findings, published today in Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, will help to improve methods of mapping ash concentration in order to identify zones where it is safe to fly during future eruptions.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled in 2010 and 2011 following volcanic activity in Iceland because of the danger that volcanic ash posed to aircraft and their engines.

In the new study, researchers studied volcanic ash recovered in the UK from the recent Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn eruptions, as well as prehistoric samples from peat bogs in Yorkshire, Scotland and Ireland. Another sample, from an 1875 eruption, had been in a museum for 140 years.

The researchers found that grains were much larger than what had been typically estimated by satellite measurements of ash clouds – even moderately-sized eruptions could disperse large grains as far as the UK.

Volcanic ash particles from Icelandic eruptions extracted from peat bogs in Malham, Yorkshire, (pictures ‘a’ and ‘d’) and the Shetland Islands, Scotland (pictures ‘b’ and ‘c’). Credit: Atmospheric Measurement Techniques

Study co-author Dr Graeme Swindles, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said: “Microscopic volcanic ash layers preserved in Yorkshire peat bogs and mud at the bottom of lakes, far from volcanoes, are providing much needed information on the characteristics of ash clouds. These records show us that Europe was hit by volcanic ash clouds very frequently in the past.”

The group also used computer models to simulate how clouds of various ash particle sizes would appear to satellite sensors. They found that sensors can underestimate the size of larger particles.

Dr John Stevenson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: “Mapping volcanic ash clouds and their risk to aircraft is hard. Large regions of airspace can be contaminated by particles that are invisible to the naked eye. Combining the expertise of volcanologists and atmospheric scientists should help improve forecasts.”

Further information

The study was supported by the Scottish Government and Marie Curie Actions via the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The research paper, ‘Big grains go far: understanding the discrepancy between tephrochronology and satellite infrared measurements of volcanic ash’, is published online in the journal Atmospheric Measurement Techniques on 19 May 2015.

Dr Graeme Swindles is available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer at the University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email s.j.reed@leeds.ac.uk.

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Remembering the Colombia 1985 volcanic disaster

One of the most tragic volcanic events of the 20th century occurred in Colombia, in 1985, when an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz produced lahars that swept down river valleys and destroyed communities in its path. Over 20,000 people perished.

Mount Rainier and other volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range are similar to Nevado del Ruiz in many respects—massive amounts of snow and ice, a long history of lahars, and narrow valleys leading to populated areas. Could what happened at Nevado del Ruiz happen in the Pacific Northwest? And if it did, are we prepared?

In 2013, the US-Colombia Bi-national Exchange was created to help scientists, emergency managers and first responders in both countries to learn from the events in Colombia and to work toward improving disaster preparedness in communities located near volcanoes. The Exchange allows the Colombian officials to observe and learn about U.S. emergency response systems and for U.S. personnel to absorb the hard-earned lessons from the Colombians’ experiences with volcanic crises.

Scientists, decision-makers, emergency officials, community leaders, teachers, parents, students—everyone has a responsibility to prepare for the next eruption. Your role in preparedness begins with learning about the hazards where you live, work or go to school, evacuation routes and how to access information during a crisis. Ask local and state emergency officials and schools about their plans and be ready to follow their guidance. Finally, gather basic emergency provisions and create a plan to reunite with family members if you are separated. The volcano may erupt, but the tragedy doesn’t have to happen. And that is the point.

Disaster Charter activated for Villarrica volcano

 

A Red Alert has been declared in southern Chile after an eruption at Villarrica Volcano this morning.

Over two thousand people were evacuated from Pucon, and another thousand from Panguipulli, two communities close to the volcano.

While no one has been harmed in the eruption, the situation will continue to be monitored for any further eruption. The ash from the volcano could also pose a hazard to health. Meteorologists currently expect the ash cloud to be blown south and across remote parts of Argentina.

disaster_charterThe Disaster Charter is an agreement between international satellite and remote sensing agencies to provide free access to data and resources to help mitigate the effects of disasters on human life and property.

The Charter can be activated by any national disaster management authority. The activation for Villarrica was requested by the  Chilean agency responsible for civil protection (ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública).

For updates of the ongoing activity check the latest status reports from ONEMI, Chile. Also, follow #Villarrica on twitter for social media updates and more images of the current activity.

Chile’s Villarrica volcano spews fountains of lava

Chile’s Villarrica volcano erupted last night (Tuesday 3rd March) sending fountains of lava shooting into the sky. The eruption began at around 3am local time and is still ongoing.

Locals updated twitter with pictures of spectacular columns of lava and ash spewing out of the volcano crater. The Chilean agency responsible for civil protection (ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública) has declared a red alert indicating the volcano is still active and dangerous.

 

Villarrica is a pgmaps_Volcopular tourist destination and is one of the most active volcanoes in southern Chile. It has been producing gas almost constantly for 30 years since its last eruption in 1984. This recent eruption was preceded by signs of increased unrest around mid-February, which included increased seismicity and explosions around the crater. During an overflight on 16 February volcanologists observed a lava lake and recorded temperatures near 800 degrees Celsius.

The major hazard from this eruption to the local town of Villarrica is from lahars. These are extremely hazardous mudslides and form by the melting of snow and ice from the summit glacier by the intruding or erupting magma.

For status updates of the ongoing activity check the latest status reports from ONEMI, Chile. Also, follow #Villarrica on twitter for social media updates and more images of the current activity.

 

Webcam catches Colima volcano eruption

Earlier this week another big eruption occurred at the Colima volcano in western Mexico. The volcano has been erupting for the past few weeks, but this latest eruption was caught on a webcam.

The video has been sped up but shows the power of the eruption as it spews out ash some 2000m into the atmosphere above the summit.

Using satellites to map ground movements on Fogo volcano

The Fogo volcano, named after the Cape Verde island it inhabits, erupted on 23rd November for the first time in 19 years. Initial analysis suggests that there was little warning from the volcano before the eruption and surprised many local residents. The volcano is still currently active and the locals have been evacuated.

The volcano expelled a large quantity of lava which flowed towards a nearby village. About 20 homes were destroyed

Researchers at the University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment (Pablo Gonzalez) and PPO.labs (Petar Marincovic) in the Netherlands have been busy analysing satellite radar data from the European Space Agency’s new Sentinel-1A satellite, which launched earlier this year in April.

Preliminary results show the movement of the ground on and around the volcano shown by the rainbow colours on the radar deformation map shown below.

Surface deformation map of the Fogo island volcano that erupted recently.  Source: ESA

Surface deformation map of the Fogo island volcano that erupted recently.
Source: ESA

The use of satellites, such as Sentinel-1A, will allow for a much greater number of volcanoes to be monitored on a regular basis. This is particularly valuable in places with few sensors on the ground. The data acquisition rates are expected to increase further with the launch of the next suite of Sentinel satellites from the European Space agency over the next few years.

“By acquiring regular images from Sentinel-1, we will be able to monitor magma movement in the subsurface, even before eruptions take place, and use the data to provide warnings,” said Tim Wright from the University of Leeds and director of the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics. (quote source)

“The coverage and repeat visit time of Sentinel-1 is unprecedented and we are currently working on a system that will use Sentinel-1 to monitor all of the visible volcanoes in the world,” said Andy Hooper, also from the University of Leeds. (quote source)

More information:
[1] http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-1/Fogo_volcano_on_Sentinel_s_radar
[2] http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2014/12/Mapping_for_emergency_response
[3] http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2014/12/Sentinel-1_maps_Fogo_eruption
[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-30291041

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano alert raised to level orange

Volcanic and seismic activity on the island nation of Iceland is nothing new. However as the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull showed, eruptions in Iceland can have far reaching impacts on the rest of Europe. The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption threw up thousands of tons of ash and dust into the air affecting millions of people and resulting in airspace closures over much of western Europe for a number of days following the eruption.

Iceland's many volcanoes. Bárðarbunga is coloured orange and is located to the south-east of the island. Image source: Icelandic Met Office

Iceland’s many volcanoes. Bárðarbunga is coloured orange and is located to the south-east of the island.
Image source: Icelandic Met Office

The recent unrest took the form of increased earthquake activity starting on Saturday 16th August at Bárðarbunga volcano. The Icelandic Met Office reports that as of Monday 18th around 2600 earthquakes were recorded by local instruments with several events greater than magnitude 3. The strongest event recorded, a magnitude 4.5, occurred on Monday morning. This is the strongest earthquake measured in the region since 1996.

Seismic activity around the volcano as of 20:45 18th August. Event times are colour coded, events larger than magnitude 3 are given as green stars. Source: Icelandic Met Office

Seismic activity around the volcano as of 20:45 18th August. Event times are colour coded, events larger than magnitude 3 are given as green stars.
Source: Icelandic Met Office

The Icelandic Met Office observes very strong indications of ongoing magma movement in the lower crust. As of yet it is uncertain whether there is magma migration to the surface. However if the current activity persists and magma enters shallower portions of the crust then it is likely Bárðarbunga  will erupt. And like Eyjafjallajökull, Bárðarbunga also lies hidden beneath Iceland’s largest glacier. An eruption below the glacier could throw up thousands of tons of steam, ash and dust into the atmosphere and result in similar air traffic disturbances as the 2010 eruptions. Not to mention floods in the local area.

The Icelandic Met Office has raised the risk level to the aviation industry to orange, the second-highest level. An orange alert indicates that the volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.

The various volcanic alert levels. Bárðarbunga has been raised to level orange. Source: Icelandic Met Office

The various volcanic alert levels. Bárðarbunga has been raised to level orange.
Source: Icelandic Met Office

Various CGS academics and researchers at the University of Leeds are working hard to update the hazard and ground deformation maps of the region around the volcano, as part of the FutureVolc project. This will be invaluable data to monitor the volcano and the eruption, if it occurs.

Ekbal

More information:
[1] The Icelandic Met Office: http://en.vedur.is
[2] A well written and active volcano blog: http://www.wired.com/category/eruptions
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28843968
[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/18/iceland-volcano-risk-raised-to-orange
[5] The FutureVolc project website: http://futurevolc.hi.is