Multi-decadal satellite measurements of global volcanic degassing

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© 2016 The Authors. Satellite instruments have been providing measurements of global volcanic emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) since 1978, based on observations in the ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR) and microwave spectral bands. We review recent advances in satellite remote sensing of volcanic gases, focusing on increased instrument sensitivity to tropospheric SO2 emissions and techniques to determine volcanic plume altitude. A synthesis of ~36 years of global UV, IR and microwave satellite measurements yields an updated assessment of the volcanic SO2 flux to the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS) between 1978 and 2014 (~1-Tg/yr). The present availability of multiple UV and IR satellite SO2 products provides increased confidence in calculated SO2 loadings for many eruptions. We examine the temporal and latitudinal distribution of volcanic SO2 emissions and reassess the relationship between eruptive SO2 discharge and eruption magnitude, finding a first-order correlation between SO2 emission and volcanic explosivity index (VEI), but with significant scatter. Based on the observed SO2-VEI relation, we estimate the fraction of eruptive SO2 emissions released by the smallest eruptions (~0.48 Tg/yr), which is not recorded by satellite observations. A detailed breakdown of the sources of measured SO2 emissions reveals intuitively expected correlations between eruption frequency, SO2 loading and volcanic degassing style. We discuss new constraints on e-folding times for SO2 removal in volcanic plumes, and highlight recent measurements of volcanic hydrogen chloride (HCl) injections into the UTLS. An analysis of passive volcanic emissions of SO2 detected in Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) SO2 data since 2004 provides new insight into the location and stability of the dominant sources of volcanic SO2 over the past decade. Since volcanic SO2 emissions constitute a random, highly variable perturbation to the atmosphere-climate system, continued monitoring of volcanic SO2 emissions from space by multiple UV and IR instruments to extend the current multi-decadal record is essential, and near-global, geostationary measurements of SO2 may be available by the end of the current decade.

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Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research