NASA: Volcanic eruptions emit clouds of ash and sulphur dioxide gas. These clouds do not have a distinct look but instead are packed with sharp-edged silicate particles. Particles that have the potential to erode aircraft parts. Further, they can enter the jet engines and convert into volcanic glass due to heat.
The airborne weather radars have a difficult time identify volcanic clouds. And to human eye, volcanic ash clouds look like normal weather clouds. That is where NASA steps in for establishing identification procedures. Its satellites viz. Aura, Aqua and Suomi NPP help in detecting sulphur dioxide gas.
Scientists at NASA ‘s Goddard Space Flight Center developed the detection technique. Nickolay Krotkov, Physical research scientist at the Goddard’s stated that “The volcanic clouds move at a high speed to spread across the globe and the satellites are the ideal platform to detect the sulphur dioxide clouds”.
Further, a project lead by Dr. Krotkov, aims to integrate critical data regarding sulphur dioxide and volcanic clouds into the operating systems of the agencies that strive to track volcanic clouds. This will probably help such agencies to issue legitimate alerts as the critical data is gathered by NASA’s satellites.
The data collection and integration has to be a speedy process as aircrafts move at approx. 500 miles an hour. The indications need to be exact and swift to accommodate a non-hazardous flight.
Apparently, the new technique has been put to use in Alaska and is showing great results. Within 10 minutes of the overview, presence of Sulphur dioxide helps in detecting the size of the cloud and the airplanes are informed to manoeuvre accordingly.
The US space agency is currently trying to find ways to pass on such data to national weather service, so that the meteorological department can issue warnings in no-time.