How volcanic ash plumes end up in the jet stream

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Washington, April 20(ANI): The area in the atmosphere that pilots prefer to fly in, known as jet stream, is most likely to be impacted by plumes from volcanic ash, according to an expert.

Marcus I. Bursik, professor of geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, explained the reason behind the problem.

He said: "That's a problem because modern transcontinental and transoceanic air routes are configured to take advantage of the jet stream's power, saving both time and fuel.

"The interaction of the jet stream and the plume is likely a factor here. Basically, planes have to fly around the plume or just stop flying, as they have, as the result of this eruption in Iceland."

Often the plume can be tracked satellites and pilots can steer around the plume.

However, it didn't work in the current ash cloud cover over Europe, following volcanic eruption in Iceland, since the ash drifted right over Britain.

Bursik has further explained the problems in a 2009 paper called "Volcanic plumes and wind: Jet stream interaction examples and implications for air traffic".

He said: "In the research we did, we found that the jet stream essentially stops the plume from rising higher into the atmosphere. Because the jet stream causes the density of the plume to drop so fast, the plume's ability to rise above the jet stream is halted: the jet stream caps the plume at a certain atmospheric level."

Bursik says that new techniques now in development will be capable of producing better estimates of where and when ash clouds from volcanoes will travel.

He and his colleagues have proposed a project with researchers at the University of Alaska that would improve tracking estimates to find out where volcanic ash clouds are going.

He added: "What we get now is a mean estimate of where ash should be in atmosphere but our proposal is designed to develop both the mean estimate and estimates of error that would be more accurate and useful. It could help develop scenarios that would provide a quantitative probability as to how likely a plane is to fly through the plume, depending on the route."

The study has been published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. (ANI)

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