Eruption of volcano Kambalny

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In March 2017 the Russian volcano Kambalny, in southern Kamchatka, erupted for the first time in 650 years.

Date & Time
24 March 2017 20:00 UTC–31 March 15:00 UTC
Volcanic Ash RGB, Airmass RGB

By HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland), Dan Lindsey (NOAA) and Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT)

Although it was possible to see the initial plume from the volcano using Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash RGB satellite data (Figure 1, left), the sulphur dioxide (SO2) swaths were not so easy to follow. After initially taking a south-easterly track, the first plume drifted eastward beyond 37° N/130 °E — out of Himawari’s view. It was even impossible to detect using GOES-16 (with very similar capabilities), because of a bad overlap and obscuring cloud decks.

Image comparison
Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash, 25 March 09:20 UTC Himawari-8 Airmass RGB, 25 March 09:00 UTC
Figure 1: Comparison of Himawari-8 images showing the traces of SO2

There was also a faint SO2 signal on the Himawari-8 Airmass RGB at the beginning of the eruption, see red arrows on Figure 1, right panel. But further SO2 swaths were, again, difficult to follow, although better seen on the animation from 24 March 21:30 UTC–26 March 09:20 UTC (MP4, 8 MB).

Figure 2
Figure 2: Animated gif of Himawari-8 Ash RGB, 24 March 20:10 UTC–25 March 19:50 UTC. Download animation (MP4, 5 MB)

On the animated Ash imagery from 24 March 20:10 UTC–25 March 19:50 UTC (Figure 2 and MP4), aviation contrails can be seen forming and advecting with the flow (black lines). Some of the contrails form straight lines (as expected), while others, especially those south of the volcanic plume, form strange curves (see this example from 25 March, 09:30 UTC).

It might be assumed that the curves or 'kinks' in the contrails could be flight paths deviating, in response to the volcanic plume (volcanic ash can be harmful to plane engines), but closer inspection shows they are mainly due to differential advection by the wind. There may have been slight deviations from a 'straight' path, but those then get quickly distorted far more significantly by the wind.

It appeared that a few days later one SO2 plume was re-circulated under a cloud whirl, situated east of the tip of Kamchatka, see red arrow on the Ash RGB image in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Himawari-8 Ash RGB, 30 March 06:00 UTC

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Figure 4
Figure 4: Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash, 31 March 15:00 UTC

On 31 March just over 350 km south west of Kambalny, volcano Chirinkotan, one of the Northern Kuril Islands, also erupted. The eruption was very short, typically known as an 'explosive' type of eruption.

Chirinkotan volcano is a large, mostly submerged, stratovolcano forming a small largely vegetated, 3 km wide island in the Kuril Island chain. Located at the far end of a volcanic chain that extends nearly 50 km west of the central part of the main Kuril Islands arc, it is one of the Kuril's most active volcanoes.

This eruption could be well seen on Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash RGB imagery, see Figure 4 (see black arrow) and the animation (MP4, 12 MB). Also on Figure 4 a strangely coloured, almost grey, plume pointing north from Kambalny can be seen (see red arrows.)

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