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Univ. of Alaska-Fairbanks: "High spatial-resolution tracking and prediction models of volcanic eruption clouds"

Final Report

Monitoring and alerting appropriate agencies of volcanic eruptions and associated eruption clouds are concerns throughout the world. In Alaska, the National Weather Service and the Alaska Volcano Observatory monitor and assess volcanoes and eruptions. Monitoring techniques include instruments such as seismometers and lightning detection devices and visual observing systems such as satellite images, video images, field observations, and pilot reports. Alone, each technique provides limited information, but together they provide a more complete picture.

The topic of this research was the tracking of airborne volcanic eruption clouds using a plume-tracking model, in conjunction with the previously mentioned systems. In Alaska, these clouds are tracked by lightning detection equipment, satellite images, and observers. These tracking systems are limited by the location of instruments and observers, the weather, and the timing of satellite passes. A model that accurately predicts plume movement will provide reliable information at times when observations and equipment cannot. The purpose of this Partners Project was to develop and refine a tracking model for young (less than 24 hours old) eruption clouds that would provide detailed information within a few hundred kilometers of a volcano where potential physical damage and health risks are at their maximum. Specific objectives included:

  1. Further developing the Tanaka high-resolution plume-tracking model

  2. Refining the real-time access to meteorological observations to include error-checking routines

  3. Incorporating surface geographic features in the model output to locate plumes so that the potential hazard can be predicted

  4. Developing options that provide input to variables that might influence the composition and dynamics of a plume

  5. Testing the accuracy of the model

All of the objectives, with the exception of the third, were accomplished. The use of higher resolution data sets (NGM) for input to the model was found to make a significant difference in the resulting plume forecast, improving the model forecast ability. Visualization of model output (objective 3) is still being tailored to the forecast office's needs.