Volcanic plume understanding and forecasting: Integrating remote-sensing, in-situ observations and models (V-PLUS)

The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull and 2011 Grimsvötn eruptions in Iceland were stark reminders that society is increasingly vulnerable to volcanic hazards. Since 2012, volcanic eruptions are listed in the UK National Risk Register for Civil Emergencies, recognising the high potential for societal disruption and economic loss. Volcano observatories and regulatory bodies, including the nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAACs), use a variety of tools and data to mitigate the impacts of eruptions, and ensure aviation safety.

Some of the most important tools are atmospheric models that simulate the atmospheric transport and removal of volcanic plume constituents and form the backbone of the regulatory response. The accuracy of these model predictions relies on:

i) accurate input data, mainly derived from ground-based measurements and satellites;
ii) the accuracy of the model representation of volcanic plume transport and plume processes. The overarching aims of V-PLUS are to transform our understanding of volcanic plumes and deliver methods and tools that enhance monitoring and forecasting capabilities in the UK and beyond. Our project partners and subcontractor include the Icelandic Met Office, the UK Met Office and Etna volcano observatory, which ensures that our new research breakthroughs will be used operationally by VAACs and volcano observatories. This will enhance our capabilities to mitigate the economic and societal hazards posed by volcanic eruptions. To achieve our aims, V-PLUS will exploit data from a recently launched satellite sensor called TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI). The exceptional spectral and spatial resolution of TROPOMI, 12 times better than the previous generation of instruments, is for the first time comparable to ground-based measurements, and will be a game-changer in volcanology, providing an unprecedented opportunity to characterise and track volcanic plumes. V-PLUS will combine this new data with ground-based and other satellite data, as well as atmospheric modelling to study volcanic plumes with unprecedented fidelity. To improve our ability to measure volcanic ash from satellite imagery we will conduct experiments on volcanoes, directly sampling volcanic ash during volcanic explosions using unmanned aerial vehicles, and test numerical models of volcanic activity. Aside from volcanic ash hazards, toxic volcanic sulphur species can degrade air quality, negatively affect human health, and potentially increase the cost of ownership of aircraft engines due to an increase in maintenance cycles. However, there is at present extremely limited knowledge of exposure thresholds and durations at which negative human health effects occur and the functioning of aircraft engines is compromised. While none of the VAACs are currently required to forecast the dispersion of volcanic sulphur, there is increasing recognition of the potential hazards from volcanic gases and their chemical conversion products. Thus, the requirement for VAACs could change in future. The chemical evolution of gases and aerosol particles controls the health and climatic impact of eruptions, and we will study this chemical evolution through experiments in accessible volcanic gas plumes. In summary, the new atmospheric models and tools created by the V-PLUS will be rigorously tested using case study eruptions and translated into tools for direct use by VAACs and volcano observatories. Therefore, the V-PLUS project will have societal and economic benefits primarily through creating enhanced national and international capability to predict the dispersion of volcanic ash and gas plumes including their impacts on air quality, human health, climate and aviation.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£516,702 GBP
Start date
1 Mar 2019
3 years 5 months 29 days
End date
30 Aug 2022