Volcanoes observed erupting from space by Russian satellites

Aerial observations allow scientists to give advance warning of disruption for local communities and air travel

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Saturday 05 May 2018 18:55
Kamchatka volcano eruption as seen from space

A group of volcanoes in the Russian far east have been observed erupting from space by satellites.

The Kamchatka volcanoes are monitored in order to avert disruption caused by their regular eruptions for air travel and local populations.

"Thanks to the operational satellite monitoring of Kamchatka volcanoes, it is possible to analyse thermal anomalies and ash plumes in volcano areas, perform their numerical simulation, and determine the various characteristics of the volcanic process," said Dr Evgeny Lupyan, head of the satellite monitoring technology department at the Space Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Of course, the most important task is to promptly inform about dangerous situations.”

Some notable volcanoes such as Mount Saint Helens in Washington, or Mount Kilauea – which is currently erupting in Hawaii – are the subjects of constant, close monitoring with specialised instruments.

Though the activity of volcanoes such as the on-going eruption of Mount Kilauea can still be incredibly harmful, advance warnings by scientists can allow local people to at the very least evacuate the area.

However, of the roughly 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, many are remotely located and therefore poorly monitored.

Timelapse video shows lava overflowing at the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii

In these cases, satellites such as Nasa’s Terra spacecraft can be used to identify potential hazards, allowing surrounding communities to take precautions prior to eruptions.

Volcanoes in Kamchatka and the Kuril islands are monitored using the VolSatView system, which uses data both from Russian and international satellites.

The Kamchatka volcanoes are among the most active in the world, generally erupting between three and seven times every year.

Though daily monitoring of these hazardous zones has been underway since the early 1990s, it has been bolstered by the implementation of a comprehensive array of readings taken from space.

These readings are provided by Russian satellites Meteor-M, Resource-P and Canopus-B, with additional information coming from the likes of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites.

Data collected in this manner have allowed scientists to produce an aerial view of three of the region’s satellites erupting in quick succession last year.

“We were lucky to observe a unique case – the eruption process of three volcanoes of the Northern Kamchatka group,” said Dr Lupyan.

“According to remote sensing data, an animation picture was created that clearly illustrates the transience of powerful explosive eruptions and the long-term existence of ash clouds in the atmosphere, which pose a real danger to aviation."

When volcanoes in the Kamchatka region erupt, they tend to produce large ash clouds that rise to heights of up to 10 miles above sea level and spread thousands of miles from the source.

Unfortunately for nearby populations these ash clouds often descend on cities and towns, killing trees and interfering with communications systems.

These plumes can also be disruptive for air travel, as the fine ash interferes with jet machinery.

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