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25 November 2013


Experts on Volcanic Ash and Civil Aviation discuss Progress, Priorities

The World Meteorological Organization brought together international experts from volcano observatories, academia, volcanic ash advisory centres, meteorological services and representatives of aviation regulators, engine manufacturers and airlines to discuss progress on ash dispersal forecasting and produce a roadmap for the future.

A workshop on ash dispersal forecast and civil aviation  from 18 to 20 November reinforced the multi-disciplinary collaboration that has grown since the disruption to air transport caused by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010. The workshop was sponsored by WMO, the University of Geneva, the British Geological Survey, the UK Met Office, the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) and the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior.

The workshop at WMO headquarters in Geneva identified priorities to maximise national and international cooperation and advancement of scientific research, and to strengthen the response to future eruptions in order to minimize disruption to air transport and to protect human safety

Priorities include the need for systematic ground and space-based monitoring, increased integration of observations with forecast models and further opportunities to share knowledge and experience across the communities

The workshop was followed by a meeting 21 to 22 November of the WMO-IUGG Volcanic Ash Advisory Group, which combines the expertise of meteorologists and volcanologists in a joint hazard management platform and provides scientific advice to the International Civil Aviation Authority.

Worldwide, there are about 20 volcanoes erupting at any given time, posing a potential hazard to aviation because airplanes have no effective defences against volcanic ash. The fine ash participles are sucked into a jet engine and melt at about 1 100 degrees Celsius, fusing on to the blades and other parts of the turbine. The can erode and destroy fan blades, eventually leading to engine shutdown and affect fuel supply. They can also “blind” pilots by sandblasting the windscreen. Since 1973 there have been 120 reported aviation incidents due to volcanic ash, including 26 cases of very severe engine damage and 9 incidents of in-flight engine failure. 

“The Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption raised the profile of volcanic ash and the risk to the aviation sector among volcanologists. The response of the scientific community to the challenge has been overwhelming,” said Larry Mastin of the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the co-chairs of the Volcanic Ash Scientific Advisory Group (VASAC).

 “Since in 2010, there has been much progress In improving warnings for volcanic ash for the aviation Industry,” said Andrew Tupper, an expert with the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia and the other VASAC co-chair. “This includes more effective use of satellite data and dispersion models and the development of tools to streamline generation of the volcanic ash advisory,” he said.  

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology operates one of the 9 global Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres across the world, established by the International Civil Aviation Authority in close cooperation with WMO and the IUGG. During an eruption, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in the area concerned issues a Volcanic Ash advisory based on observations, meteorological data and forecasts of transport and dispersion. Based on these advisories the designated Meteorological Watch Office(s) issues SIGMETS - significant meteorological warnings – for aircraft before and in flight covering all or part of their areas of responsibility.

Despite the improvements since 2010, there are still considerable uncertainties in the provision of warnings for volcanic ash, as highlighted by the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Merapi in Oct-Nov 2010 and the Chilean Payehue-Cord´on Caulle volcano complex in June 2011.

There is therefore a need for further progress in detection and measurement of volcanic plumes and ash clouds during eruptions and in accuracy of dispersion-model forecasts of cloud transport. A broad range of continued multi-disciplinary investigations – as provided by the meetings at WMO – to foster scientific advance and transition it to operational applications.




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