Devastating eruptions of volcano Fuego near Guatemala City

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In June 2018 eruptions from volcano Fuego, 40 km west-southwest of Guatemala City, brought disaster and many deaths to its surrounding area.

Date & Time
03 June 2018 12:00 UTC–23:45 UTC
GOES-16, Aqua
Natural Color RGB, Volcanic Ash, True Color

By HansPeter Rosesli (Switzerland)

This deadly eruption ranks as the largest from the volcano since 1974, according to the Volcano Discovery report. At least 110 people were reported to have been killed as villages on the slopes the volcano were buried in volcanic ash, mud and rocks. Pyroclastic flows, which are fast-moving mixtures of very hot gas and volcanic matter, rushed down the mountainside and engulfed the villages.

The volcanic activity on 3 June is described with the help of RGB imagery from ABI on GOES-16. The animation of a sequence of Natural Color and Volcanic Ash RGBs during daylight (Figure 1) gives an overview of the volcanic activity. In general, the cyan colouring of the clouds in the Natural Color RGBs points to a dominant presence of ice clouds and those around Fuego probably disguised the ash particles due to having used them as ice nuclei in the very humid tropospheric air.

Figure 1: GOES-16 Natural Colour RGb and Volcanic Ash RGB imagery, 3 June 12:00 UTC–23:45 UTC.

GOES-16 captured the first signs of activity around 13:45 UTC, after clouds had cleared from the area. On Figure 2 two blue pixels adjacent to the white dot (volcano position) mark an emerging hot spot on the Volcanic Ash RGB (right panel), and a short north-pointing plume left the crater on the Natural Color RGB (along white arrow on left panel).

Figure 2
Figure 2: GOES-16 Natural Color RGB (left) and Volcanic Ash RGB (right) images, 3 June 13:45 UTC

According to news reports a massive first explosion occurred around local noon (18:00 UTC). The Natural Color RGB showed an emerging small grey-blue plume on top of two other plumes that had weakening grey shades (left panel on Figure 3). Although the grey colouring suggests the plume was dirty, no pink ash signal appeared in the Volcanic Ash RGB (right panel). However, the green U-shape points to the presence of SO2, although it could also be an artefact.

Image comparison
Natural Color RGB Volcanic Ash RGB
Figure 3: Comparison of GOES-16 Natural Color RGB and Volcanic Ash RGB imagery, 3 June 18:15 UTC

With the plumes from the first explosion having left the area, a second explosion occurred after 21:15 UTC. At 21:30 UTC the colouring of the plume on the Volcanic Ash RGB (right panel on Figure 4) showed more convincing green SO2 signals, but again the pink colour depicting ash was absent. Also, a lot of shadow on the Natural Color RGB made it difficult to spot dark ash (left panel). Nevertheless, in the south-west sector of the volcano area a grey veil with a south-west to north-east running edge can be discerned in the Natural Color RGB. The same area is purple or deep blue in the Volcanic Ash RGB and might indicate a thin ash layer at low levels.

Image comparison
Natural Color RGB image Volcanic Ash RGB image
Figure 4: Comparison of GOES-16 Natural Color RGB and Volcanic Ash RGB images, 3 June 21:30 UTC.
Figure 5
Figure 5: Aqua MODIS True Color RGB at 250 m pixels, 3 June 19:30 UTC

Swirling smoke could be clearly seen on the MODIS True Color RGB, from the Aqua satellite, at 19:30 UTC on 3 June (brown area indicated by red arrows on Figure 5).


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