Sep 25, 2014

Suomi NPP satellite data used for mitigating aviation related volcanic hazards

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A joint NOAA/NASA satellite is one of several satellites providing valuable information to aviators about volcanic hazards. An aviation “orange” alert was posted on 18 August 2014, for Bárðarbunga, a stratovolcano located under the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, indicating the “volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

Much of the information leading to that alert came from satellites including Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on board the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP).

While the Vatnajökull ice cap and its seismic activity has been gradually increasing over the past seven years, these recent events in Iceland are reminiscent of the destructive aftermath from the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption caused a six-day travel ban over the controlled airspace of many European countries. Data from NOAA satellites were used in the volcanic ash detection and property retrieval algorithm to create products to be used by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC), including the London VAAC. The data given to the air traffic control organisations provided the information they needed to make the decision to divert and ground more than 4,000 flights. The ban was in effect to address the possibility of volcanic ash ejection causing damage to aircraft engines and risking human life. This was the largest air-traffic shut down since World War II, costing $1.7 billion in losses for the airline industry, as well as innumerable losses within freight imports and exports; tourism industries and the access to fresh food and essential goods.

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