, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 345-361
Date: 30 May 2008

Automated forecasting of volcanic ash dispersion utilizing Virtual Globes

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There are over 100 active volcanoes in the North Pacific (NOPAC) region, most of which are located in sparsely populated areas. Dispersion models play an important role in forecasting the movement of volcanic ash clouds by complementing both remote sensing data and visual observations from the ground and aircraft. Puff is a three-dimensional dispersion model, primarily designed for forecasting volcanic ash dispersion, used by the Alaska Volcano Observatory and other agencies. Since early 2007, the model is in an automated mode to predict the movement of airborne volcanic ash at multiple elevated alert status volcanoes worldwide to provide immediate information when an eruption occurs. Twelve of the predictions are within the NOPAC region, nine more within the southern section of the Pacific ring of fire and the others are in Europe and the Caribbean. Model forecasts are made for initial ash plumes ranging from 4 to 20 km altitude above sea level and for a 24-h forecast period. This information is made available via the Puff model website. Model results can be displayed in Virtual Globes for three-dimensional visualization. Here, we show operational Puff predictions in two and three-dimensions in Google Earth®, both as iso-surfaces and particles, and study past eruptions to illustrate the capabilities that the Virtual Globes can provide. In addition, we show the opportunity that Google Maps® provides in displaying Puff operational predictions via an application programming web interface and how radiosonde data (vertical soundings) and numerical weather prediction vertical profiles can be displayed in Virtual Globes for assisting in estimating ash cloud heights.