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Radar Path Delay Effects in Volcanic Gas Plumes: The Case of Láscar Volcano, Northern Chile

GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Research Division 4: Dynamics of the Ocean Floor, Wischhofstr. 1–3, 24148 Kiel, Germany
German Aerospace Center (DLR), Remote Sensing Technology Institute, Oberpaffenhofen, 82234 Weßling, Germany
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 2.1: Physics of Volcanoes and Earthquakes, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Remote Sens. 2018, 10(10), 1514;
Received: 28 August 2018 / Accepted: 18 September 2018 / Published: 21 September 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing of Volcanic Processes and Risk)
PDF [11672 KB, uploaded 21 September 2018]


Modern volcano monitoring commonly involves Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) measurements to identify ground motions caused by volcanic activity. However, InSAR is largely affected by changes in atmospheric refractivity, in particular by changes which can be attributed to the distribution of water (H2O) vapor in the atmospheric column. Gas emissions from continuously degassing volcanoes contain abundant water vapor and thus produce variations in the atmospheric water vapor content above and downwind of the volcano, which are notably well captured by short-wavelength X-band SAR systems. These variations may in turn cause differential phase errors in volcano deformation estimates due to excess radar path delay effects within the volcanic gas plume. Inversely, if these radar path delay effects are better understood, they may be even used for monitoring degassing activity, by means of the precipitable water vapor (PWV) content in the plume at the time of SAR acquisitions, which may provide essential information on gas plume dispersion and the state of volcanic and hydrothermal activity. In this work we investigate the radar path delays that were generated by water vapor contained in the volcanic gas plume of the persistently degassing Láscar volcano, which is located in the dry Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. We estimate water vapor contents based on sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission measurements from a scanning UV spectrometer (Mini-DOAS) station installed at Láscar volcano, which were scaled by H2O/SO2 molar mixing ratios obtained during a multi-component Gas Analyzer System (Multi-GAS) survey on the crater rim of the volcano. To calculate the water vapor content in the downwind portion of the plume, where an increase of water vapor is expected, we further applied a correction involving estimation of potential evaporation rates of water droplets governed by turbulent mixing of the condensed volcanic plume with the dry atmosphere. Based on these estimates we obtain daily average PWV contents inside the volcanic gas plume of 0.2–2.5 mm equivalent water column, which translates to a slant wet delay (SWD) in DInSAR data of 1.6–20 mm. We used these estimates in combination with our high resolution TerraSAR-X DInSAR observations at Láscar volcano, in order to demonstrate the occurrence of repeated atmospheric delay patterns that were generated by volcanic gas emissions. We show that gas plume related refractivity changes are significant and detectable in DInSAR measurements. Implications are two-fold: X-band satellite radar observations also contain information on the degassing state of a volcano, while deformation signals need to be interpreted with care, which has relevance for volcano observations at Láscar and for other sites worldwide. View Full-Text
Keywords: gas emission monitoring; X-band InSAR; scanning Mini-DOAS; Multi-GAS; volcanic gases; precipitable water vapor; radar path delay; Láscar volcano gas emission monitoring; X-band InSAR; scanning Mini-DOAS; Multi-GAS; volcanic gases; precipitable water vapor; radar path delay; Láscar volcano

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Bredemeyer, S.; Ulmer, F.-G.; Hansteen, T.H.; Walter, T.R. Radar Path Delay Effects in Volcanic Gas Plumes: The Case of Láscar Volcano, Northern Chile. Remote Sens. 2018, 10, 1514.

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