Volcanic Ash

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By entering this site, you acknowledge that this information is produced solely for use by the aviation industry, and you are aware that any information for the purposes of flight planning should be obtained from Airservices Australia.

Nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres around the world advise the international aviation industry of the location and movement of clouds of volcanic ash. The area covered by the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and part of the Philippines. This area has seen some of the biggest eruptions known to history.

The map below shows the areas of the world that are covered by the nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres. The International Civil Aviation Organization has a downloadable Handbook on the International Airways Volcano Watch with details on how the warning system works - the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres give specialist advice to Area Control Centres and Meteorological Watch Offices in the affected area, who then issue 'NOTAM' and 'SIGMET' warnings respectively to aircraft.

Map of VAAC areas of responsibility Link to VAAC Wellington Link to Darwin Advisories Link to VAAC Anchorage Link to VAAC Anchorage Area not monitored Area not monitored Area not monitored Link to VAAC Washington Link to VAAC Washington Link to VAAC Tokyo Link to VAAC Toulouse Link to VAAC Buenos Aires Link to VAAC Wellington Link to VAAC Montreal Link to VAAC London

Cordón Caulle, Chile, June 2011

On the 4th of June 2011, the Cordón Caulle volcano complex in Chile erupted approximately 50,000ft (15,000m) into the atmosphere. The Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) began issuing advice to the aviation industry on the location of the ash plume and its expected movement.

The volcano has remained active and as of the 22nd of June, the main ash plume had extended east from the volcano across the Atlanic, Indian and Southern Oceans into the Pacific Ocean; and was continuing around the world a second time. Volcanic ash is being monitored by four Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres: Buenos Aires, Toulouse, Wellington and Darwin.


Infrared image showing ash plume on the 9th of June 2011

Click image for latest view.
Image: Infrared image from MTSAT-2 satellite taken on 9th of June 2011. Volcanic ash is indicated by the green and red colours over the southern Indian Ocean (Note that pale green 'specks' away from the main cloud are not ash). Source: Japan Meteorological Agency satellite MTSAT-2 processed by the Bureau of Meteorology.


True Colour MODIS image of initial 2011 eruption

Image: MODIS/Aqua True Colour image taken at 1850Z on the 4th of June 2011(NASA).


What is VAAC Darwin doing?

Staff at VAAC Darwin are using a range of volcanic ash detection techniques to determine the current extent of the volcanic ash plume. We are using computer modelling and liaising with VAAC Toulouse to determine where the ash plume is likely to move.

In addition, we are providing Volcanic Ash Advisories and briefings to the aviation industry to allow them to make decisions on air routes that are safe to fly.

Why has the ash plume travelled so far?

Volcanic ash particles come in a range of sizes and while the biggest will fall to the ground quickly, very small particles take a long time to settle out of the atmosphere. This eruption ejected these small particles very high in the atmosphere, to a region of stronger winds known as the jet stream. The jet stream has then carried the ash particles great distances to the east.

It is not unprecedented for volcanic ash to remain suspended for long time periods. Ash from the initial eruption of Merapi in Indonesia during November 2010 remained in upper levels of the atmosphere for almost two weeks, and in 1991, ash from the volcano Cerro Hudson (also in Chile) circumnavigated the globe.


Image: Satellite image of path of the Cordon Caulle ash cloud around the southern hemisphere from 5-12 June 2011.
Images courtesy of the European Meteorological Satellite agency, Japanese Meteorological Agency and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their geostationary satellites.


Where can I find further information?

Publications and Research Papers

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology conducts volcanic clouds research in collaboration with other institutions. Below is a selected list of publications. Some of these are available for download in Adobe PDF format; please use the 'Contact VAAC' link above if you are unable to read that format and wish to obtain a paper copy.

Peer-reviewed journals

Tupper, A., C. Textor, M. Herzog, H. Graf, and M.S.Richards, 2009: Tall clouds from small eruptions: the sensitivity of eruption height and fine ash content to tropospheric instability. Natural Hazards, 51, 375-401. External link

Tupper, A. and R. Wunderman, 2009: Resolving discrepancies in ground and satellite observed eruption cloud heights. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 186, 22-31. External link

Tupper, A., I. Itikarai, M. S. Richards, F. Prata, S. Carn, and D. Rosenfeld, 2007: Facing the challenges of the International Airways Volcano Watch: the 2004/05 eruptions of Manam, Papua New Guinea. Weather and Forecasting, 22, 175-191. External link.

Tupper, A., J. Davey, P. Stewart, B. Stunder, R. Servranckx, and F. Prata, 2006: Aircraft encounters with volcanic clouds over Micronesia, Oceania, 2002/03. Australian Meteorological Magazine, 55, 289-299. PDF (1.8 Mb)

Tupper, A., J.S. Oswalt, and D. Rosenfeld, 2005: Satellite and radar analysis of the volcanic-cumulonimbi at Mt Pinatubo, Philippines, 1991, J. Geophys. Res. (Atmos.), 110, D09204, doi: 10.1029/2004JD005499, 2005. External link (requires subscription). Pre-print (PDF format - 3.1 MB)

Tupper, A., S. Carn, J. Davey, Y. Kamada, R. Potts, F. Prata, and M. Tokuno, 2004: An evaluation of volcanic cloud detection techniques during recent significant eruptions in the western 'Ring of Fire', Remote Sensing of Environment, 91, 27-46, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2004.02.004. External link (requires subscription), Pre-print version (PDF format - 2.9 MB)

Tupper, A. C. and K. Kinoshita, 2003: Satellite, air and ground observations of volcanic clouds over islands of the Southwest Pacific. South Pacific Study, 23, 21-46. PDF file (2.1 MB)

Prata, A. J., G. J. S. Bluth, W. I. Rose, D. J. Schneider, and A. C. Tupper, 2001: Comments on "Failures in detecting volcanic ash from a satellite-based technique". Remote Sensing of Environment, 78, 341-346.

Potts, R. J., 1993: Satellite observations of Mt Pinatubo ash clouds. Australian Meteorological Magazine, 42, 59-68.

Hanstrum, B.N., and A.S. Watson 1983: A case study of two eruptions of Mount Galunggung and an investigation of volcanic eruption cloud characteristics using remote sensing techniques, Australian Meteorological Magazine, 31, 131-177.


Volcanic Ash Clouds - an International Aviation Hazard, 2002. Educational poster with satellite montage of major eruptions in the region. Electronic copies: 152 KB, 808 KB .

Tupper, A., C. Textor, M. Herzog, and H. Graf, 2007: Tall clouds from small eruptions: modelling the sensitivity of eruption height and fine ash fallout to tropospheric instability. 4th WMO International Workshop on Volcanic Ash, Rotorua, New Zealand. PDF ( 650 KB)

Potts, R., M. Manickam, A. Tupper, and J. Davey, 2004: The Darwin VAAC Volcanic Ash Workstation. Second International Conference on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety, Alexandria, Virginia, USA, Session 4, p. 19-22. PDF file (286 KB)

Tupper, A., Y. Kamada, N. Todo, and E. Miller, 2004: Aircraft encounters from the 18 August 2000 eruption at Miyakejima, Japan. Second International Conference on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety, Alexandria, Virginia, USA, Session 1, p. 5-10. PDF file (430 KB)

Tupper, A., G. Ernst, C. Textor, K. Kinoshita, J. S. Oswalt, and D. Rosenfeld, 2004: Volcanic cloud conceptual models for Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre operations. Second International Conference on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety, Alexandria, Virginia, USA, Session 4, p. 27-32. PDF file (696 KB)

Kinoshita, K., C. Kanagaki, A. Minaka, S. Tsuchida, T. Matsui, A. Tupper, H. Yakiwara, and N. Iino, 2004: Ground and Satellite Monitoring of Volcanic Aerosols in Visible and Infrared Bands. The CEReS International Symposium on Remote Sensing - Monitoring of Environmental Change in Asia, 16-17 December 2003, Chiba, Japan. PDF file (1.04 MB)

Tupper, A., K. Kinoshita, C. Kanagaki, N. Iino, and Y. Kamada, 2003: Observations of volcanic cloud heights and ash-atmosphere interactions. WMO/ICAO Third International Workshop on Volcanic Ash, Toulouse, France, September 29 -October 3, 2003. PDF file (1.08 MB)

Davey, J. P., A. C. Tupper, and R. J. Potts, 2003: Volcanic Cloud monitoring issues at the Darwin VAAC. WMO/ICAO Third International Workshop on Volcanic Ash, Toulouse, France, September 29 -October 3, 2003. PDF file (696 KB)

Potts, R., Manickham, M., Davey, J., The Darwin VAAC Volcanic Ash Workstation. WMO/ICAO Third International Workshop on Volcanic Ash, Toulouse, France, September 29 -October 3, 2003. PDF file (654 KB)

Tupper, A. C., J. P. Davey, and R. J. Potts, 2003: Monitoring Volcanic Eruptions in Indonesia and the Southwest Pacific. Researching Eruption Clouds of Volcanic Island Chains , Kagoshima University, 9-10 November 2002, Kagoshima University Research Center for the Pacific Islands, 153-163. PDF file (1.01 MB)

Kinoshita, K., C. Kanagaki, A.Tupper, and N. Iino, 2003: Observation and Analysis of Plumes and Gas from Volcanic Islands in Japan. International Workshop on Physical Modelling of Flow and Dispersion Phenomena, 3-5 Sept. 2003, Prato, Italy, Firenze University Press. PDF file (370 KB)

Kinoshita, K., C.Kanagaki, N.Iino, M.Koyamada, A.Terada, and A.Tupper, 2003: Volcanic plumes at Miyakejima observed from satellites and from the ground. Optical Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Clouds III , Hangzhou, China, October 2002, SPIE, Bellingham, WA, USA, 227-236. PDF file (1.67 MB)

Pendlebury, S. and A. Tupper, 2001: Antarctic volcanic ash: a potential threat. Australian Antarctic Magazine, Spring 2001, 6. External link.

Potts, R. J. and M. Tokuno, 1999: GMS-5 and NOAA AVHRR satellite observations of the New Zealand Mt Ruapehu eruption of 19/20 July 1996. Preprints 8th Conf on Aviation, Range and Aerospace Meteorology, American Meteorological Society. PDF file (446 KB)

Potts, R. J. and E. E. Ebert, 1996: On the detection of volcanic ash in NOAA AVHRR infrared satellite imagery. 8th Australasian Remote Sensing Conference, 25-29 March 1996, Canberra, Australia. PDF file (230 KB)

Potts R.J. and F.Whitby, 1994: Volcanic ash warnings in the Australian region. Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety, July 1991, Seattle, Washington. US Geological Survey Bulletin 2047.

I'm confused about these "Colour Codes". Are they the same all over the world?

It's important to distinguish between local alert levels and aviation colour codes. For example, Indonesia has four alert levels:

Indonesia's Alert Code

Level I, green ("Aktif normal - Normal active")
Level II, yellow ("Waspada - Alert")
Level III, orange ("Siaga - Anticipation")
Level IV, red ("Awas - Ready to erupt")

These levels are designed to warn local populations, not aircraft. Where we quote colour codes in our advisories, we are extrapolating the information received to the code adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation:

Aviation Colour Code

Green Alert:
Volcano is in normal, non-eruptive state,
or, after a change from a higher alert level,
Volcanic activity considered to have ceased and volcano reverted to its normal, non-eruptive state.
Yellow Alert:
Volcano is experiencing signs of elevated unrest above known background levels,
or, after a change from a higher alert level,
Volcanic activity has decreased significantly but continues to be closely monitored for possible renewed increase.
Orange Alert:
Volcano is exhibiting heightened unrest with increased likelihood of eruption.
Volcanic eruption is underway with no or minor ash emission
Red Alert:
Eruption is forecast to be imminent with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere likely.
Eruption is underway with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.

It should be obvious that the surface-based and aviation colour codes above for a volcano will not always be the same, although 'red' generally means 'red'. Unless a code is quoted explicitly as 'Aviation colour code', it should be assumed to relate only to the surface-based code.

I'm confused about the difference between NOTAMs, ASHTAMs, SIGMETs and Volcanic Ash Advisories....

NOTAMs are issued by Area Control Centres to advise of, amongst other things, hazards. They may include information such as route closures. ASHTAMs are a special series of NOTAM specifically for volcanic hazards. SIGMETs are meterological warnings issued by Meteorological Watch Offices. In the case of volcanic ash, the SIGMETs would usually give information about the extent of ash cloud. Volcanic Ash Advisories are messages issued by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres to inform Area Control Centres, Meteorological Watch Offices, and other parties. The Volcanic Ash Advisories do not have warning status, but may provide useful information in cases where SIGMETs or NOTAMS are not up to date.

Where can I find out more infomation about the Galunggung 747 encounters in 1982?

The British Airways encounter is the most widely known, but there were others: see our Galunggung page. You can read British Airways Captain Eric Moody's account on his website. There's also a description of the British Airways encounter at the US FAA site. There is also a video (produced by Boeing) available from the International Civil Aviation Organisation which features an account of this incident (a short description of the video is on the U.S. Geological Survey site). The Global Volcanism Program has a good summary of the eruptions, which also had very extensive effects on the ground. For a detailed account of the incident focussing on the passengers viewpoint, 'All Four Engines Have Failed', The True and Triumphant Story of Flight BA 009 and the 'Jakarta Incident', by Betty Tootell, published by Andre Deutsch (ISBN 0-233-97758-9), is a gripping read. This book can be obtained from some public libraries on inter-library loan. At least two recent television documentaries (screened in Japan and in the United States of America) have featured the incident.

Is the Australian Bureau of Meteorology responsible for predicting earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Australia?

No, Geoscience Australia is responsible for those areas, particularly earthquake monitoring. Their web site contains a wealth of information. Our interest is confined to the aviation hazard of volcanic ash once an eruption has taken place (or when authorities advise that an eruption is imminent).

Is VAAC Darwin responsible for predicting a tsunami generated from a volcanic eruption in Australia?

No, tsunami warnings are issued for the Australian coastline and islands by the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre operated by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology andGeoscience Australia. National warnings and bulletins, along with other information on the Australian Tsunami Warning System can be found at http://www.bom.gov.au/tsunami/index.shtml .

Are there any active volcanoes in Australia?

There are no active volcanoes in mainland Australia, but there are historically active volcanoes on Heard Island and the Macdonald group of islands, which are Australian territories in the southern Indian Ocean. Some images of Heard Island are in our 'image gallery'. There are considerable difficulties in monitoring these remote islands.

Do you take graduate students?

Unfortunately, we are unable to host graduate students. However, we are happy to correspond with people interested in or working in the field; see our 'contact' page.

What can I do to about ashfall from a volcano?

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) has issued a pamphlet for the public and emergency managers on guidelines for preparedness before, during and after an ashfall . This is available in in pdf and html format from http://www.ivhhn.org/. This pamphlet can also be ordered from the IVHHN web site. Currently it is available in English, with the Spanish and Japanese versions expected to be available by November 2007 and Italian and French soon after.

I run an airport near an erupting volcano. How do I keep my runways clear of volcanic ash?

One reference we have on this issue says, in part:

"Basic techniques include:

  • Wet ash with water trucks
  • Blade into windows,
  • Pick up with belt or front-end loaders,
  • Haul to dump areas, and
  • Sweep and flush residue.
  • Sweep/vacuum ash first, then flush with water (best for ramps, etc.).
  • Push ash to runway edge and plow under or cover with binder such as Coherex or lignin.
  • Install sprinklers along edges of runway to control resuspension of ash from aircraft engine blast or wing-tip vortices.
  • Keep residue wet on taxiways and ramps."

from J.R. Labadie, 1994, 'Mitigation of Volcanic Ash Effects on Aircraft Operating and Support Systems', in 'Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety', edited by Thomas J. Casadevall published as US Geological Survey Bulletin 2047

The full text of the article is highly recommended.

Is volcanic ash bad for my health?

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) has issued a pamphlet as a guide for the public on the health hazards of volcanic ash . This is available in in pdf and html format from http://www.ivhhn.org/. This pamphlet can be ordered from the IVHHN web site. Currently it is available in English, with the Spanish and Japanese versions expected to be available by November 2007 and Italian and French soon after.

Volcanic ash is a very useful material in industry and agriculture. Where can I buy some in bulk?

We do not have any details of suppliers of volcanic ash. You might try looking for business contacts in nearby volcanically active countries such as Indonesia or Papua New Guinea.

I have a more general question about volcanoes. Where should I start looking?

If you like reading the 'Frequently Asked Questions' type format (and since you've got this far we assume you do), then have a look at the FAQ on the 'Volcano World' site. Failing that, try some of the other sites under our 'links' page, or try an advanced search on a good search engine.