Satellite monitoring of remote volcanoes improves study efforts in Alaska

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Abstract

Satellite monitoring of remote volcanoes is greatly benefitting the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO), and last year's eruption of the Okmok Volcano in the Aleutian Islands is a good case in point. The facility was able to issue and refine warnings of the eruption and related activity quickly, something that could not have been done using conventional seismic surveillance techniques, since seismometers have not been installed at these locations.

AVO monitors about 100 active volcanoes in the North Pacific (NOPAC) region, but only a handful are observed by costly and logistically complex conventional means. The region is remote and vast, about 5000 × 2500 km, extending from Alaska west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (Figure 1). Warnings are transmitted to local communities and airlines that might be endangered by eruptions. More than 70,000 passenger and cargo flights fly over the region annually, and airborne volcanic ash is a threat to them. Many remote eruptions have been detected shortly after the initial magmatic activity using satellite data, and eruption clouds have been tracked across air traffic routes. Within minutes after eruptions are detected, information is relayed to government agencies, private companies, and the general public using telephone, fax, and e-mail. Monitoring of volcanoes using satellite image data involves direct reception, real-time monitoring, and data analysis. Two satellite data receiving stations, located at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), are capable of receiving data from the advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR) on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar orbiting satellites and from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) equipped satellites.

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