Research Spotlight: Three-dimensional ash cloud observations could help aviation

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Abstract

[1] In the spring of 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, sending a towering column of ash floating above the North Atlantic Ocean. The ash cloud shut down air traffic over much of Europe, significantly affecting the European economy. Although Eyjafjallajökull was one of the more recent, prominent displays of the effects of volcanic ash, similar disturbances are felt in the shadows of active volcanoes the world over. To ensure the safety of both planes and passengers, regulators rely on ash cloud dispersal models to forecast areas that might be affected by an active volcano. The models use measurements of meteorological conditions and ground- or satellite-based observations of ash plumes to forecast the expected path and size of the cloud. Unfortunately, the two-dimensional plume observations used as inputs typically lack information that could significantly improve the forecast, such as details of the volcanic cloud's vertical extent. (Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, doi:10.1029/2009JD013162, 2010)

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