NASA satellite data could help reduce flights sidelined by volcanic eruptions.
When a volcano erupts, it can wreak just as much havoc in the air than on land. The expanding plume of ash that rises into the atmosphere is a danger to aircraft and can damage engines, causing them to fail midflight. Because the plumes often look like ordinary rain clouds on radar and to a pilot's eye, they can be difficult to detect. Out of caution, smoke-spewing volcanoes are given a wide berth, leading to costly flight delays and cancellations. To help improve the flow of air traffic, NASA scientists are using data collected by the Earth-observing Suomi NPP satellite to map the full three-dimensional structure of volcanic clouds. By measuring the location and height of particles within the cloud, as well as the amount of sulfur dioxide gas in the air, scientists can create improved models of weather patterns, allowing a more accurate forecast of where the hazardous ash is spreading—information air traffic managers can use to reroute flights and keep passengers out of harm’s way. Watch the video to learn more.