Forecasting the volcanic ash plume of Iceland's volcano

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:45 PM GMT on April 19, 2010

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The eruption of Iceland's volcano with the unpronounceable name, Eyjafjallajökull, has virtually ceased over the past few hours, with ash only reaching up to 6,000 feet (1800 meters), according to the latest advisory from the UK Met Office. Lightning images from UK Met Office show no new lightning strikes from the volcano's plume since midnight local time today. The relatively small amount of ash present at low altitudes will probably not be able to make it all the way to mainland Europe before falling to the surface and dissipating, since 6,000 feet is below the altitude that the strong winds of jet stream blow. Wednesday through Sunday, the volcano emitted a towering cloud of volcanic ash 6 - 11 km (20,000 - 36,000') high in the air from its 1666 meter (5500') high peak. The jet stream blows strongly at that altitude range, which allowed for efficient transport of the ash cloud to mainland Europe.


Figure 1. Lightning lights up the night sky in this photo of Eyjafjallajökull's eruption taken on April 16, 2010. Ash particles colliding together separate electric charge, much as ice particles in a thunderstorm do, leading to spectacular lightning displays. Image credit: Marco, Fulle, Stromboli Online.

Forecasts of the movement of the ash cloud are made using trajectory models, which have a number of uncertainties to consider. Firstly, the amount of ash ejected by the volcano is highly uncertain, since our measurements of this quantity are limited. Secondly, the models must compute how high the ash cloud will rise (plume rise), based on the best available measurements of atmospheric stability. Since upper air-observations are taken just twice daily by a very coarse network of balloon soundings, our knowledge of the stability is rather crude. Finally, the trajectory models use forecast winds from a global model such as the GFS model to predict where the plume may go. The forecast winds from this model do not capture much of the complicated structure of the wind field over Europe, leading to a rather fuzzy approximation of where the ash will go. Nevertheless, these models have in general done a respectable job forecasting where the ash from Eyjafjallajökull will go over the past few days.


Figure 2. Cross section of the atmosphere over time over Paliseau, France, on April 16, 2010, as observed using ground-based lidar. Image taken using a 532nm cross polarization NFOV telescope. Note how the ash layer sinks closer to the ground as time progresses, as gravity makes the ash sink to the ground. There may also be some atmospheric subsidence occurring (downward moving air due to large-scale atmospheric processes.) Image credit: Ray Hoff, World Meteorological Organization's Global Atmosphere Watch's Aerosol Lidar Network (GALION).

For the next few days, these models continue to indicate that northwest winds at the jet stream level will continue to affect Iceland. As a result, Spain, Portugal, and Greece will offer the best locations to fly from. The northwesterly winds are expected to continue for the remainder of the week, thanks to an upper-level trough of low pressure over northern Europe. On Saturday April 24, the ECMWF model predicts that the trough will slide eastwards, and a ridge of high pressure will build over Europe. This will bring upper-level winds out of the southwest to Iceland, directing any volcanic ash northwards over the North Pole. Thus for the remainder of this week, expect continued ash clouds over much of Europe if the volcano resumes significant eruptions. But by next Sunday, the ash over Europe should decline considerably. For the latest one-day forecasts of where the ash cloud is expected to go, consult the UKMET Office. The Rhenish Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Cologne also has some excellent simulations from an atmospheric dispersion model of Eyjafjallajökull's eruption plume. The Norwegian Institute for Air Research runs a computer trajectory model called FLEXPART that has 1-day forecasts showing a cross section of the atmosphere. NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) lets you perform your own model run using their HYSPLIT model, going out up to 48 hours, using the GFS model as input.


Figure 3. NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the eruption at 1:20 UTC on April 17, 2010. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

Links
An excellent source of links of information on the eruption is available at http://islande2010.mbnet.fr/2010/04/eyjafjallajok ul-links-liens-a-propos-de-leyjafjallajokul/. My post on Thursday discusses the likely non-impact of this eruption on Earth's climate. Finally, we need to be keeping an eye on earthquake activity at the dangerous Katla volcano next to Eyjafjallajökull. If that volcano blows, it could mean dwarf the headaches caused by Eyjafjallajökull.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
so is it likely that the volcano will effect this hurricane season?

At this current state of the Iceland eruption, probably not, as it is a relatively small eruption at the 65N parallel, prevailing winds will keep whatever aerosols that are present way up north, far away from the Tropics.

However, if there is a larger eruption, things may change, but at this moment, there is no sign that will occur.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
so is it likely that the volcano will effect this hurricane season?


No, it's not that kind of volcano. Katla could, but this one not so much. The ash wasn't blasted high enough.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26594
Quoting all4hurricanes:

A nice little blob by Australia, Looks promising

That's actually Indonesia and not Australia.
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Quoting xcool:
looking at ecmwf..


The Euro doesn't really have anything on the surface (only goes out to 240 hours though), but it does show the same reversal from troughing to ridging over the Caribbean, which is a much more favorable environment for tropical mischief.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26594
670. xcool
looking at ecmwf..
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so is it likely that the volcano will effect this hurricane season?
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Quoting Levi32:


Nope....far too deep for anyone to feel.

That is a good thing!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
An area of strong upward motion associated with the MJO is expected to be over the eastern Pacific and Caribbean during the first week of May.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26594
Quoting Drakoen:
For what it's worth, the GFS continues to indicate the formation of a broad area of low pressure that may coalesce into a tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific or Southern Caribbean.


It really may be a pretty nice setup for such an event to occur during the first week of May.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26594
GFS shows the upper level pattern becoming much more conducive for tropical cyclone development in late April and early May.

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30179
Quoting Bordonaro:
Wonder if Levi felt this little tremor:

mblor:


Nope....far too deep for anyone to feel.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26594
Quoting troy1993:
Hey guys which hurricane for North Carolina was worse: Fran, Floyd, Bonnie, or Bertha?

Floyd caused widespread flooding and flood damage throughout the state.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Wow, it's mid-spring, Severe Weather is almost non-existent, the Earth is fairly quiet, except for the occasional tremblor and the Iceland Volcano, and almost all the WU bloggers aren't around?!?!?!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting Bordonaro:


Looks like the Windward Islands may receive some more rain!!


Would be great, but models (GFS) don't show this.
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For what it's worth, the GFS continues to indicate the formation of a broad area of low pressure that may coalesce into a tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific or Southern Caribbean.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30179
Hey guys which hurricane for North Carolina was worse: Fran, Floyd, Bonnie, or Bertha?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

AOI/XX/XL
MARK
12N/70W


Looks like the Windward Islands may receive some more rain!!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Some rain showers are building south of lake okeechobee and it looks like some rain is coming to palm beach county..
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Wonder if Levi felt this little tremor:

mblor:
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PcolaDan:


Well there you go then... The earths crust has more cracks on it than an old cowboys skin.

It must be an ancient plate that helped to form the Appalachian mountains eons ago. As old as Floodman!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785

AOI/XX/XL
MARK
12N/70W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 170 Comments: 53536
Quoting Bordonaro:

There must be an ancient fault line there . There have been a number of quakes from 1990-present:


Well there you go then... The earths crust has more cracks on it than an old cowboys skin.
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
Quoting PcolaDan:


Kind of a bit east of where I thought they would feel the New Madrid fault. Wrong end of the state.

There must be an ancient fault line there . There have been a number of quakes from 1990-present:
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PcolaDan:


Look at the difference in water between pictures 114 and 124. Lots of melt it looks like.

I took a look at that, you're right, alot of glacial melt took place.

Tomorrow, the skies are supposed to clear, and we'll get a better idea of what the volcano is doing. It has been shrouded most of the afternoon.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting Bordonaro:

Weird place for an earthquake!


Kind of a bit east of where I thought they would feel the New Madrid fault. Wrong end of the state.
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
Quoting Bordonaro:

Thanks :o)


Look at the difference in water between pictures 114 and 124. Lots of melt it looks like.
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Quoting PcolaDan:

Weird place for an earthquake!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PcolaDan:
Bord, you have this site? It's from vodaphone, which is being blocked from outside Iceland. Someone capturing it and posting. Adding it to list on my blog.

http://picasaweb.google.com/102175391233488315229

Thanks :o)
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
Bord, you have this site? It's from vodaphone, which is being blocked from outside Iceland. Someone capturing it and posting. Adding it to list on my blog.

http://picasaweb.google.com/102175391233488315229
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
El nino continues of die, now at .5.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21109
Quoting barbamz:


Hi, Bordo. *normal* plus some chaos I suppose. A woman in my neighborhood has a ticket for today to Croatia. She asked the airport whether she should go tomorrow or better wait until Thursday. Answer: She should go tomorrow. The chaos anyway would be the same one day later, lol.

I sure hope everyone arrives at their destinations safely. With about 15,000+ flights over Europe, I hope that none of them find "ash problems".

The Iceland Volcano web-cams have been obscured most of the day with clouds/snow. However, the volcano is still spewing ash, steam and magma. It appears, at least for the time being, that the eruption of magma and reduced amounts of ash/steam will continue.

It will be chaos over the skies of Europe for at least several days. Hopefully the Iceland volcano continues to cooperate. The Katla volcano remains quiet, no signs of activity, at least for the time being. The Iceland Meteorological Centre is watching everything very closely.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
The world wouldn't be normal without chaos
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Quoting Bordonaro:

Thanks Barbara, looks like European air travel will slowly return to normal.


Hi, Bordo. *normal* plus some chaos I suppose. A woman in my neighborhood has a ticket for today to Croatia. She asked the airport whether she should go tomorrow or better wait until Thursday. Answer: She should go tomorrow. The chaos anyway would be the same one day later, lol.
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Quoting barbamz:
Good afternoon/evening from Germany. Long awaited results from the scientific test flight yesterday evening from German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen (don't be afraid, no volcano there that would force you to pronounce it, lol) seems to be out. Unfortunately the coverage is still only in the German, and I'm too tired to translate. Short version: With the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) they detected layers from ash in certain hights (around 3km) mostly in southern and eastern Germany, but not very concentrated. In northern Germany they found nothing. Ashes seem to be gone.
Though there isn't a press release about the measurement results yet, the site from the Aerospace Center (in English) is quite interesting, including reports from the flight with Falcon 20E yesterday which may be informative for some of you.
http://www.dlr.de/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-3086/

Thanks Barbara, looks like European air travel will slowly return to normal.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Good afternoon/evening from Germany. Long awaited results from the scientific test flight yesterday evening from German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen (don't be afraid, no volcano there that would force you to pronounce it, lol) seems to be out. Unfortunately the coverage is still only in the German, and I'm too tired to translate. Short version: With the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) they detected layers from ash in certain hights (around 3km) mostly in southern and eastern Germany, but not very concentrated. In northern Germany they found nothing. Ashes seem to be gone.
Though there isn't a press release about the measurement results yet, the site from the Aerospace Center (in English) is quite interesting, including reports from the flight with Falcon 20E yesterday which may be informative for some of you.
http://www.dlr.de/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-3086/
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A beautiful Pt Cloudy Tuesday in Arlington, TX. It's 69F, low humidity with light winds. Our Pollen Count is near normal, although my eyes are itchy, itchy:
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
That's an amazing photo. Got to be the cover for the next printing of Dante's Inferno.
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Here you go Cyclone Oz:

MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0325
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0240 PM CDT TUE APR 20 2010

AREAS AFFECTED...HIGH PLAINS OF SE CO...NE NM AND FAR WRN TX/OK
PANHANDLES

CONCERNING...SEVERE POTENTIAL...WATCH UNLIKELY

VALID 201940Z - 202045Z

A THREAT FOR MARGINALLY SEVERE WIND AND HAIL THREAT IS EXPECTED TO
DEVELOP OVER THE HIGH PLAINS OF SE CO...NE NM AND THE FAR WRN OK/TX
PANHANDLES THIS AFTERNOON. A WW IS NOT CURRENTLY ANTICIPATED.

EASTERLY UPSLOPE FLOW HAS DEVELOPED IN RESPONSE TO LEE SFC TROUGH
AND WEAK CYCLOGENESIS NEAR PUB. RECENT VIS SATELLITE IMAGERY
INDICATES CONVECTION IS UNDERWAY OVER THE FRONT RANGE...AND MORE
RECENTLY INTO SE CO AND NE NM. ADDITIONAL CONVECTIVE DEVELOPMENT IS
EXPECTED TO BE FOCUSED ALONG THE HIGH PLAINS DURING THE NEXT SEVERAL
HOURS...WHERE A MORE MOIST/UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT EXISTS. LATEST SFC
ANALYSIS SHOWS WIDESPREAD DEWPOINTS IN THE UPPER 40S TO LOWER 50S
ACROSS MUCH OF THE CNTRL/SRN HIGH PLAINS...WHICH SHOULD BE
SUFFICIENT TO YIELD ML CAPE VALUES AROUND 500-1000 J/KG. VEERING
WIND PROFILE WILL YIELD 25-35 KT OF SFC-6 KM SHEAR PER AREA
VWP/PROFILER DATA...DESPITE WEAK MID-LEVEL FLOW. MARGINAL SUPERCELL
STRUCTURE MAY OCCASIONALLY BE OBSERVED WITH THE STRONGER CELLS AS
INSTABILITY INCREASES THIS AFTERNOON.

..ROGERS.. 04/20/2010
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Latest False Color Satellite from NE Europe:

Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785

A nice little blob by Australia, Looks promising
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On the "tsni fr rlfsfelli" web-cam, little "E" is smoking nicely:
Link
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
616 CycloneOz "If you go to XtremeHurricanes.com and click the "Live Hurricane Webcam" button on the left...The webcam is up and running right now. I'm going to...get you a good shot of the city with thunderstorm action..."

I'm holding out for....................Tyrannosaurs Flying F-14s
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Time for the WU "Daily Downpour" everyone :o).
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Looks like this El Nino's all but done. Should be officially neutral by the end of next week.
Nino 3.4 down to 0.5, from 0.8 earlier in the week. El Nino's not going to persist,
at least its very unlikely. Right now the El Nino has been following the ENSO forecast.

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Quoting leftovers:
if thunderstorm season really gets cranking at the end of may where are the floridians going to put all that water
Maybe we can use the excess to water our lawns or fill our pools instead o having restrictions.
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627. xcool
Cool With Me haha
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Quoting xcool:
Bordonaro .he good get big fast....

Treasure these moments, it won't be long before your baby will be asking you for $20 to buy a toy :o)!!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
625. xcool
Bordonaro .he good get big fast....
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
(Eyjafjoll)

Iceland

63.63 N, 19.62 W
summit elevation 1666 m
stratovolcano
Link

NICE BIG SNOW FLAKES TODAY IMAGE UP ON CAM 1

KOTG, I saw that earlier, now the little "E" is shooting out plenty of steam from this web-cam.
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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