NASA Uses Satellites to Track Volcanic Ash

Posted on May 15, 2016

Volcanic ash cloud diagram over globe

NASA is suing satellites to track volcanic ash. The ash can destroy a jet engine and possibly cause it to fail. The ash is difficult to detect on radar because it can look like rain clouds. The ash can even look like rain clouds to the pilot.

Satellites can detect volcanic ash by observing the scattering of ultraviolet light from the sun. NASA scientist Nickolay Krotkov is developing a new method to map the complete 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). The OMPS Limb Profiler looks backwards after passing the volcanic plume and measures the vertical profile of the cloud in three separate slices.

Krotkov says in a statement, "The capability of mapping the full extent of a three-dimensional structure of a moving volcanic cloud has never been done before."

NASA says the height of the plume is critical when it comes to forecasting the direction of the plume. Even several kilometers of height can make a big difference in predicting plume movement. Having more accurate volcanic ash forecasts could reduce airline cancellations and the costs of rerouting flights. Take a look:

Image: NASA
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