Natural Hazards

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 345–361 | Cite as

Automated forecasting of volcanic ash dispersion utilizing Virtual Globes

  • Peter W. Webley
  • Kenneson Dean
  • John E. Bailey
  • Jon Dehn
  • Rorik Peterson
Original Paper


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.


Puff Volcanic ash Dispersion modelling and Virtual Globes 



Airforce Weather Agency


Application programming interface


Arctic Region Supercomputing Center


Above sea level


Advanced very high resolution radiometer


Aviation model-global forecast system


Alaska Volcano Observatory


Canadian emergency response model


Digital elevation model


Geostationary operational environmental satellite


Hybrid single-particle Lagrangian integrated trajectories


Kamchatka Volcano Emergency Response Team


Keyhole markup language


Keyhole markup language zipped


Moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer


North American mesoscale model


National Centers for Environmental Prediction


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System


North Pacific


Numerical weather prediction


National Weather Service


Ozone monitoring instrument


Registered trademark


University of Alaska Fairbanks


University of Maryland – Baltimore County


United States Geological Survey


Coordinated universal time


Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre


Volcanic ash transport and dispersion


Weather research and forecast



We would like to thank Kristine Nelson at the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (NWS, Anchorage), Jeff Osiensky of the NWS (Anchorage) and Tina Neal of the USGS (AVO, Anchorage) for their advice on interfaces and automated data outputs. Also, we would like to thank Gordon Jackson and Andrew Tupper at the Darwin VAAC for their information on the Rabual 2006 eruption and suggestions for the automated monitoring for the Java/Indonesian region. We would like to thank the reviewers of the paper for their useful and insightful comments and Andrew Tupper and Alfred Prata for their assistance in the preparation of the special issue: Aviation Hazards from Volcanoes for Natural Hazards. We would like to thank AVO and the Geophysical Institute at UAF for their support of this research. In addition, Peter Webley was funded by the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center at UAF during his research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter W. Webley
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kenneson Dean
    • 2
  • John E. Bailey
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jon Dehn
    • 2
  • Rorik Peterson
    • 3
  1. 1.Arctic Region Super Computing CenterUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Alaska Volcano Observatory/Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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