Ultraviolet Satellite Measurements of Volcanic Ash

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Ultraviolet (UV) remote sensing of volcanic ash and other absorbing aerosols from space began with the launch of the first Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) instrument in 1978. Subsequent UV satellite missions (TOMS, GOME, SCIAMACHY, OMI, GOME-2, OMPS) have extended UV ash measurements to the present, generating a unique multidecadal record. A UV Aerosol Index (UVAI) based on two near-UV wavelengths, equally applicable to multispectral (TOMS, DSCOVR) or hyperspectral (GOME, SCIAMACHY, OMI, GOME-2, OMPS) instruments, has been used to derive a unique absorbing aerosol climatology across multiple UV satellite missions. Advantages of UV ash measurements relative to infrared (IR) techniques include the ability to detect ash at any altitude (assuming no clouds), above clouds, and over bright surfaces, where visible and IR techniques may fail. Disadvantages include the daytime-only restriction and nonspecificity to silicate ash, since UV measurements are sensitive to any UV-absorbing aerosol, including smoke, desert dust, and pollution. However, simultaneous retrieval of sulfur dioxide (SO2) abundance and UVAI provides robust discrimination of volcanic clouds. Although the UVAI is only semiquantitative, it has proved successful at detecting and tracking volcanic ash clouds from many volcanic eruptions since 1978. NASA A-Train measurements since 2006 (eg, CALIOP) have provided much improved constraints on volcanic ash altitude, and also permit identification of aerosol type through sensor synergy. Quantitative UV retrievals of ash optical depth, effective particle size, and ash column mass are possible and require assumptions of ash refractive index, particle size distribution, and ash layer altitude. The lack of extensive ash refractive index data in the UV-visible and the effects of ash particle shape on retrievals introduce significant uncertainty in the retrieved parameters, although limited validation against IR ash retrievals has been successful. In this contribution, we review UV ash detection and retrieval techniques and provide examples of volcanic eruptions detected in the 37year data record.

Publication Title

Volcanic Ash: Hazard Observation