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Department of Geography


Radar-supported Next-Generation Forecasting of Volcanic Ash Hazard (R4AsH)

Image above: Eyjafjallajokull eruption plume, 17 April 2010 [source].

Project overview

Explosive volcanic eruptions present a global hazard to health, the environment and the economy. The disruption they can cause is well documented. Consequently, forecasting the extent and evolution of ash-rich plumes is vital for hazard assessment.

Plume dispersal can be modelled over 1,000s of km, but these forecasts are highly sensitive to the source term parameters that describe the initial characteristics of volcanic ash in the atmosphere. The uncertainties associated with these parameters are poorly defined and limit the accuracy of these forecasts.

R4AsH is a NERC funded highlight topic that seeks to develop a new approach to determining the time-varying source term parameters through the use of satellite ash retrievals. By comparing observations with numerical models we hope to quantify uncertainties, and provide insight into poorly understood processes such as particle aggregation. No technique for observing these processes in the critical source term region exist. To address this, a multi-frequency radar will be developed and the potential of this technique demonstrated through laboratory experiments and numerical plume simulations.

High resolution simulation of a volcanic eruption plume.

High resolution simulation of a volcanic eruption plume.

This is a collaborative project, led by Lancaster University and involving researchers from Oxford, St. Andrew's, Reading, Cambridge, and the UK Met Office. A lab-scale multi-frequency radar for ash detections will be developed by St. Andrew's, installed and tested in Lancaster. Oxford will provide satellite ash retrievals. Long range transport modelling and plume inversion will be performed by Reading with contributions from the UK Met Office. Near vent volcanic plume simulations will be done in Cambridge.

The project aims to deliver the next generation of uncertainty understanding into operational long-range airborne ash concentration forecasts and open the door to near-real-time 3D quantification of evolving volcanic plumes.

The project started in June 2019.

Our contribution

Within the department of Geography we will make use of the ATHAM numerical model to perform detailed simulations of volcanic plumes in order to understand the influence of processes such as particle aggregation on the plume development. We will also generate synthetic signals for radar systems from these simulations which can be inverted and compared to the model parameters to evaluate the performance of the radar retrieval.


R4AsH is an interdisciplinary project involving other researchers from Lancaster, St. Andrew's, Reading, and Oxford universities as well as the UK Met Office.

Cambridge team

The following people in the Department of Geography are directly involved with the project:


Figure showing how the near plume modelling of ATHAM will interface with radar retrieval processes and large-scale Volcanic Ash Transport and Dispersal Models (VATDMs).