A robust method to forecast volcanic ash clouds

Journal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
By: , and 

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Abstract

Ash clouds emanating from volcanic eruption columns often form trails of ash extending thousands of kilometers through the Earth's atmosphere, disrupting air traffic and posing a significant hazard to air travel. To mitigate such hazards, the community charged with reducing flight risk must accurately assess risk of ash ingestion for any flight path and provide robust forecasts of volcanic ash dispersal. In response to this need, a number of different transport models have been developed for this purpose and applied to recent eruptions, providing a means to assess uncertainty in forecasts. Here we provide a framework for optimal forecasts and their uncertainties given any model and any observational data. This involves random sampling of the probability distributions of input (source) parameters to a transport model and iteratively running the model with different inputs, each time assessing the predictions that the model makes about ash dispersal by direct comparison with satellite data. The results of these comparisons are embodied in a likelihood function whose maximum corresponds to the minimum misfit between model output and observations. Bayes theorem is then used to determine a normalized posterior probability distribution and from that a forecast of future uncertainty in ash dispersal. The nature of ash clouds in heterogeneous wind fields creates a strong maximum likelihood estimate in which most of the probability is localized to narrow ranges of model source parameters. This property is used here to accelerate probability assessment, producing a method to rapidly generate a prediction of future ash concentrations and their distribution based upon assimilation of satellite data as well as model and data uncertainties. Applying this method to the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, we show that the 3 and 6 h forecasts of ash cloud location probability encompassed the location of observed satellite-determined ash cloud loads, providing an efficient means to assess all of the hazards associated with these ash clouds.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A robust method to forecast volcanic ash clouds
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
DOI 10.1029/2012JD017732
Volume 117
Issue D13
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher AGU
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description D13208; 10 p.
First page 1
Last page 10