New way found of monitoring volcanic ash cloud

December 10, 2010

The eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in April this year resulted in a giant ash cloud, which – at one point covering most of Europe – brought international aviation to a temporary standstill, resulting in travel chaos for tens of thousands.

New research, to be published today, Friday 10 December, in IOP Publishing's Environmental Research Letters, shows that could be used as part of an integrated approach to estimate volcanic plume properties.

The scientists found that during many of the periods of significant volcanic activity, the ash plume was sufficiently electrified to generate lightning, which was measured by the UK Met Office's long range lightning location network (ATDnet), operating in the Very Low Frequency radio spectrum.

The measurements suggest a general correlation between lightning frequency and plume height and the method has the advantage of being detectable many thousands of kilometres away, in both day and night as well as in all weather conditions.

As the researchers write, "When a plume becomes sufficiently electrified to produce lightning, the rate of lightning generation provides a method of remotely monitoring the plume height, offering clear benefits to the volcanic monitoring community."

Explore further: Scientists Pierce Veil of Clouds to 'See' Lightning Inside a Volcanic Plume

More information: The paper can be found in Environmental Research Letters at

Related Stories

A New Kind Of Lightning Discovered

January 28, 2010

When volcano seismologist Stephen McNutt at the University of Alaska Fairbanks's Geophysical Institute saw strange spikes in the seismic data from the Mount Spurr eruption in 1992, he had no idea that his research was about ...

Recommended for you

Don't forget plankton in climate change models, says study

November 26, 2015

A new study from the University of Exeter, published in the journal Ecology Letters, found that phytoplankton - microscopic water-borne plants - can rapidly evolve tolerance to elevated water temperatures. Globally, phytoplankton ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.