Articles | Volume 12, issue 21
Research article
05 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 05 Nov 2012

Horizontal and vertical structure of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud over the UK: a comparison of airborne lidar observations and simulations

A. L. M. Grant, H. F. Dacre, D. J. Thomson, and F. Marenco

Abstract. During April and May 2010 the ash cloud from the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused widespread disruption to aviation over northern Europe. The location and impact of the eruption led to a wealth of observations of the ash cloud were being obtained which can be used to assess modelling of the long range transport of ash in the troposphere. The UK FAAM (Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements) BAe-146-301 research aircraft overflew the ash cloud on a number of days during May. The aircraft carries a downward looking lidar which detected the ash layer through the backscatter of the laser light. In this study ash concentrations derived from the lidar are compared with simulations of the ash cloud made with NAME (Numerical Atmospheric-dispersion Modelling Environment), a general purpose atmospheric transport and dispersion model.

The simulated ash clouds are compared to the lidar data to determine how well NAME simulates the horizontal and vertical structure of the ash clouds. Comparison between the ash concentrations derived from the lidar and those from NAME is used to define the fraction of ash emitted in the eruption that is transported over long distances compared to the total emission of tephra. In making these comparisons possible position errors in the simulated ash clouds are identified and accounted for.

The ash layers seen by the lidar considered in this study were thin, with typical depths of 550–750 m. The vertical structure of the ash cloud simulated by NAME was generally consistent with the observed ash layers, although the layers in the simulated ash clouds that are identified with observed ash layers are about twice the depth of the observed layers. The structure of the simulated ash clouds were sensitive to the profile of ash emissions that was assumed. In terms of horizontal and vertical structure the best results were obtained by assuming that the emission occurred at the top of the eruption plume, consistent with the observed structure of eruption plumes. However, early in the period when the intensity of the eruption was low, assuming that the emission of ash was uniform with height gives better guidance on the horizontal and vertical structure of the ash cloud.

Comparison of the lidar concentrations with those from NAME show that 2–5% of the total mass erupted by the volcano remained in the ash cloud over the United Kingdom.

Final-revised paper