Volcanic plume height is a key parameter in retrieving plume ascent and dispersal dynamics, as well as eruption intensity; all of which are crucial for assessing hazards to aircraft operations. One way to retrieve cloud height is the shadow technique. This uses shadows cast on the ground and the sun geometry to calculate cloud height. This technique has, however, not been frequently used, especially not with high-spatial resolution (30 m pixel) satellite data. On 26 October 2013, Mt Etna (Sicily, Italy) produced a lava fountain feeding an ash plume that drifted SW and through the approach routes to Catania international airport. We compared the proximal plume height time-series obtained from fixed monitoring cameras with data retrieved from a Landsat-8 Operational Land Imager image, with results being in good agreement. The application of the shadow technique to a single high-spatial resolution image allowed us to fully document the ascent and dispersion history of the plume–cloud system. We managed to do this over a distance of 60 km and a time period of 50 min, with a precision of a few seconds and vertical error on plume altitude of ±200 m. We converted height with distance to height with time using the plume dispersion velocity, defining a bent-over plume that settled to a neutral buoyancy level with distance. Potentially, the shadow technique defined here allows downwind plume height profiles and mass discharge rate time series to be built over distances of up to 260 km and periods of 24 h, depending on vent location in the image, wind speed, and direction.
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