UAF scientists collaborate to study Eyjafjallajokull lightning

May 25, 2010

For travelers in Europe, the recent eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull [AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh] meant a major disruption in business and travel plans. For Alaska volcano researchers, the eruption has offered a chance to learn more about the way volcanoes work.

In the wake of the , the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology have teamed up again to study the lightning produced during volcanic eruptions. Past collaborations have found researchers studying the eruptions of Augustine, Pavlof and Redoubt volcanoes in Alaska, as well as Chaiten Volcano in Chile.

To study Eyjafjallajokull, researchers from New Mexico Tech have set up six instruments near the volcano as part of a lightning-mapping array. The sensor stations consist of an omnidirectional antenna hooked up to an electronics package, a data recorder, a GPS clock and other components.

The Eyjafjallajokull research is still in its infancy, but project member Steve McNutt, Alaska Volcano Observatory coordinating scientist at the Geophysical Institute, notes the research team has already observed some unusual and understudied phenomena, such as lightning that is propagated upward from the volcano's vent toward the sky and into the . Iceland's glacial terrain has also created some unique volcanic activity.

"Something relatively new with Iceland is that (the eruption) occurred under glacial ice," McNutt said. "Ice is interesting because it's the most electro-positive substance known."

have a negative charge, so eruption through the creates some dynamic electrical conditions in the atmosphere.

Lightning is just one element of volcanic activity that scientists are trying to better understand. More pressing for stranded travelers, for instance, is that the scientific and aviation communities are still uncertain about the dangers posed by ash clouds, so caution tends to rule the day.

"We don't really know what a safe level of ash in the atmosphere is," McNutt said. "Your only safe choice is to completely avoid it."

The collaboration between UAF and New Mexico Tech on Eyjafjallajokull offers the chance to continue gathering data for the foreseeable future. The collaboration is in the final year of a three-year National Science Foundation grant.

Explore further: $58 million effort to study potential new energy source

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A New Kind Of Lightning Discovered

Jan 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 ...

Kamchatka volcano blows its top

Jul 05, 2007

Klyuchevskoy (pronounced Kloo-shef-skoy), a stratovolcano located in the north central region of the Kamchatka Peninsula, is blasting ash up to 32,000 feet in the air, and has diverted air traffic headed toward ...

Recommended for you

$58 million effort to study potential new energy source

29 minutes ago

A research team led by The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded approximately $58 million to analyze deposits of frozen methane under the Gulf of Mexico that hold enormous potential to increase ...

And now, the volcano forecast

1 hour ago

Scientists are using volcanic gases to understand how volcanoes work, and as the basis of a hazard-warning forecast system.

User comments : 0