Another phase of eruptions from volcano Aoba (Vanuatu)

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Since September 2017 volcano Aoba, in the archipelago of Vanuatu, had been showing intermittent activity. Between 5 and 14 April 2018 there was further increased activity.

Date & Time
5 April 00:00 UTC–14 April 00:00 UTC
Sentinel-3, Himawari-8
True Colour, Volcanic Ash

By HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland)

The activity between 5 and 14 April can be seen in the Himawari-8 animation using Volcanic Ash RGBs from AHI at 10-minute intervals (Figure 1). The animation shows two major eruptions with a pause (shown in fast-forward) between 6 April 06:00 UTC and 9 April 16:20 UTC. Coincidentally, during the lull the area was frequently shrouded in convective cloud.

Figure 1: Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash animation, 5 April 12:00 UTC–14 April 14:00 UTC. Download animation (MP4, 11 MB)

On 15 April the Wellington VAAC office reported that the eruption had ceased. The different phases of the eruptions are commented on in more detail below.

SO2 plume travelling to the Coral Sea

Figure 2
Figure 2: Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash and SO2, 5 April 16:00 UTC

A map of SO2 concentration extracted from IASI on Metop, tweeted by Simon Proud (@simon_sat), showed a patch of high values east of Australia. The map was from 10 April and the tweet hinted that the SO2 was being ejected from the volcano Aoba.

In fact, the first part of the animation in Figure 1 shows an eruption on 5 April after 13:50 UTC, with an SO2 plume (green colour) that morphed into a ring while travelling west (see Figure 2).

According to the Ash&SO2 RGB sequence (Figure 3) the SO2 passed north of New Caledonia and arrived over the Coral Sea 24 hours later, very close to where IASI detected the large SO2 patch.

Figure 3: Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash animation, 5 April 13:30 UTC–6 April 14:00 UTC. Download animation (MP4, 6 MB)

The peculiar ring-shape of the SO2 plume may be explained by the closest radio-soundings at Nouméa in New Caledonia (540 km south-west of Aoba) on 5 April 12:00 UTC and 6 April 00:00 UTC. They show a temperature inversion at/above 700hPa and moderate easterly winds below.

Most probably, the plume has evolved under this temperature inversion in a rather laminar flow that favoured its regular horizontal expansion.

SO2 and ash going east

After the lull, from 9 to 14 April, the skies cleared up somewhat and the renewed eruptions reached greater heights than before, most of them ending up in the westerly regime above the boundary layer.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash RGB, left image 10 April 19:20 UTC, right image 11 April 14:00 UTC

The left-hand panel of Figure 4 shows a plume where the ejection of mainly ash (pink to grey colour) alternated with one of mainly SO2 (green colour). In contrast, one day later (right-hand panel) an almost pure SO2 plume encountered a turbulent regime and meandered considerably.

Going west again

After 11 April the eruptions weakened and the effluents were again driven westwards by the winds in the boundary layer. Sentinel-3A’s OLCI instrument scanned the area in daylight on 12 April.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Left image Sentinel-3 OLCI True Colour RGB, 12 April 22:20 UTC, right image Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash RGB 12 April 22:20 UTC

The True Colour RGB from 12 April 22:20 UTC (Figure 5, left panel) shows a northwest pointing plume. Strangely enough, on the Himawari-8 Volcanic Ash RGB from the same time (Figure 5, right panel) the streak is hardly recognisable — very weak SO2 colouring but no ash colours.

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