Forecasting the ash plume


NASA satellite image of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull eruption on April 17, 2010. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory.)

Be glad you’re not a meteorologist with the UK Met Office these days.

Forecasting volcanic ash clouds as air traffic in your country and much of Europe is shut down can be a trifle stressful to say the least.

There is some good news in the ash forecast over Europe today. The volume of ash seems to be declining as the volcano transitions to a more lava based event. Many are hoping it stays quest. If it does, the ash plume may have a chance to disperse over the next few days.


UK Met Office volcanic ash forecast

The latest eruption appears to have belched out an ash plume that is mostly below 20,000 feet. That is good news for high altitude jet traffic that can fly over the plume, but not so good for descending though the plume to find a place to land.

Here is the latest from the UK Met Office today.

•Met Office and NERC aircraft have observed volcanic ash in UK airspace at varying heights.

•Multiple land observations have recorded ash in the skies across the UK, including across southern Britain.

•Balloon observations have shown a 600 m deep ash cloud at an altitude of 4 km across parts of the UK


NASA satellite image of volcano plume track on April 19th.

“Plume Dispersion” is an entire area of meteorology that deals with how emissions sources such as smoke stacks, power plants, and yes, even volcanic plumes disperse in the atmosphere. In a previous life, I used to issue a wind forecast for a nuclear power plant in Zion, Illinois. That forecast would have been used to create a plume dispersion model in the event of a nuclear accident that released a radioactive plume in the Chicago area. At the time, I lived 8 miles from the plant. It goes without saying that my heart was into that forecast 100%.

Here are some resources to track the Icelandic ash plume.

UK Met Office ash plume forecasts

UK Met Office lightning data

UK Met Office Volcano page

Satellite animation of initial eruption plume

NASA satellite images


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