Current Earth Observation (EO) satellites provide excellent spatial, temporal and spectral coverage for passive measurements of atmospheric volcanic emissions. Of particular value for ash detection and quantification are the geostationary satellites that now carry multispectral imagers. These instruments have multiple spectral channels spanning the visible to infrared (IR) wavelengths and provide 1 × 1 km2
to 4 × 4 km2
resolution data every 5–15 min, continuously. For ash detection, two channels situated near 11 and 12
m are needed; for ash quantification a third or fourth channel also in the infrared is useful for constraining the height of the ash cloud. This work describes passive EO infrared measurements and techniques to determine volcanic cloud properties and includes examples using current methods with an emphasis on the main difficulties and ways to overcome them. A challenging aspect of using satellite data is to design algorithms that make use of the spectral, temporal (especially for geostationary sensors) and spatial information. The hyperspectral sensor AIRS is used to identify specific molecules from their spectral signatures (e.g., for SO2
) and retrievals are demonstrated as global, regional and hemispheric maps of AIRS column SO2
. This kind of information is not available on all sensors, but by combining temporal, spatial and broadband multi-spectral information from polar and geo sensors (e.g., MODIS and SEVIRI) useful insights can be made. For example, repeat coverage of a particular area using geostationary data can reveal temporal behaviour of broadband channels indicative of eruptive activity. In many instances, identifying the nature of a pixel (clear, cloud, ash etc.) is the major challenge. Sophisticated cloud detection schemes have been developed that utilise statistical measures, physical models and temporal variation to classify pixels. The state of the art on cloud detection is good, but improvements are always needed. An IR-based multispectral cloud identification scheme is described and some examples shown. The scheme is physically based but has deficiencies that can be improved during the daytime by including information from the visible channels. Physical retrieval schemes applied to ash detected pixels suffer from a lack of knowledge of some basic microphysical and optical parameters needed to run the retrieval models. In particular, there is a lack of accurate spectral refractive index information for ash particles. The size distribution of fine ash (1–63
m, diameter) is poorly constrained and more measurements are needed, particularly for ash that is airborne. Height measurements are also lacking and a satellite-based stereoscopic height retrieval is used to illustrate the value of this information for aviation. The importance of water in volcanic clouds is discussed here and the separation of ice-rich and ash-rich portions of volcanic clouds is analysed for the first time. More work is required in trying to identify ice-coated ash particles, and it is suggested that a class of ice-rich volcanic cloud be recognized and termed a ‘volcanic ice’ cloud. Such clouds are frequently observed in tropical eruptions of great vertical extent (e.g., 8 km or higher) and are often not identified correctly by traditional IR methods (e.g., reverse absorption). Finally, the global, hemispheric and regional sampling of EO satellites is demonstrated for a few eruptions where the ash and SO
dispersed over large distances (1000s km).
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