Articles | Volume 14, issue 19
Research article
09 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 09 Oct 2014

Systematic satellite observations of the impact of aerosols from passive volcanic degassing on local cloud properties

S. K. Ebmeier, A. M. Sayer, R. G. Grainger, T. A. Mather, and E. Carboni

Abstract. The impact of volcanic emissions, especially from passive degassing and minor explosions, is a source of uncertainty in estimations of aerosol indirect effects. Observations of the impact of volcanic aerosol on clouds contribute to our understanding of both present-day atmospheric properties and of the pre-industrial baseline necessary to assess aerosol radiative forcing. We present systematic measurements over several years at multiple active and inactive volcanic islands in regions of low present-day aerosol burden. The time-averaged indirect aerosol effects within 200 km downwind of island volcanoes are observed using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS, 2002–2013) and Advanced Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR, 2002–2008) data. Retrievals of aerosol and cloud properties at Kīlauea (Hawai'i), Yasur (Vanuatu) and Piton de la Fournaise (la Réunion) are rotated about the volcanic vent to be parallel to wind direction, so that upwind and downwind retrievals can be compared. The emissions from all three volcanoes – including those from passive degassing, Strombolian activity and minor explosions – lead to measurably increased aerosol optical depth downwind of the active vent. Average cloud droplet effective radius is lower downwind of the volcano in all cases, with the peak difference ranging from 2–8 μm at the different volcanoes in different seasons. Estimations of the difference in Top of Atmosphere upward Short Wave flux upwind and downwind of the active volcanoes from NASA's Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) suggest a downwind elevation of between 10 and 45 Wm−2 at distances of 150–400 km from the volcano, with much greater local (< 80 km) effects. Comparison of these observations with cloud properties at isolated islands without degassing or erupting volcanoes suggests that these patterns are not purely orographic in origin. Our observations of unpolluted, isolated marine settings may capture processes similar to those in the pre-industrial marine atmosphere.

Final-revised paper