In this paper, the potential of a multifrequency submillimeter radiometer to characterize ash plumes in the near-field of a volcanic eruption is evaluated. The radiometer's sensitivity to mass concentration and particle effective dimension is shown to depend most critically on aerosol altitude and ejected water vapor concentration. There is also some dependence on temperature, aerosol shape and complex refractive index. For this study, the volcanic aerosols are assumed to be randomly oriented solid hexagonal silicates of aspect ratio unity. The T-matrix method is used to calculate the single-scattering properties of the aerosols at 36 frequencies between 90 GHz and 880 GHz, and the aerosol bulk scattering properties are derived assuming lognormal size distribution functions. A midlatitude standard summer atmosphere and a perturbed midlatitude summer atmosphere are used to quantify the sensitivity, using the delta-Eddington two-stream approximation, of the radiometer to the presence of aerosol. It is shown that at 34 frequencies, between 113 GHz and 880 GHz, the sensitivity to aerosol is a maximum if the following four conditions are satisfied: (i) The altitude of the aerosol layer should be ≫ 3 km, (ii) 0.1 g m−3 < mass concentration < 30 g m−3 (iii) the aerosol effective dimension, De, 20 μm < De < 1000 μm and (iv) water vapor ejected by a volcano into the atmosphere should be < 1000 times greater than the background water vapor concentration. The paper demonstrates the potential usefulness of using spectrally resolved submillimeter measurements in the near-field of volcanic eruptions to characterize plume properties.
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