Last Update: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Weather Satellite Senses Volcanic Clues from Space PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex H. Kasprak   
Thursday, 09 January 2014 00:00

Mount Sakurajima is a big volcano in Japan. It erupted on August 18th 2013. The eruption shot a huge plume of ash over 3 miles into the sky. This was the highest ash plume in its recorded history. The nearby city of Kagoshima grew dark during the day from all the ash in the sky.

Up in the sky above all that ash, a powerful tool on a weather satellite, called VIIRS, saw heat coming from the volcano. VIIRS provides images like a very fancy camera. It can see more than what is visible to the naked eye and can also sense heat.

That’s what happened 14 hours before Mount Sakurajima erupted. It saw the land around the volcano get a bit warmer. The warmth came from a plume of melted rock under the volcano. This change in temperature was too small to notice if you were just sitting on the ground. But VIIRS noticed something was different from high up in the sky.

It’s hard to predict volcanic eruptions. VIIRS could be a valuable tool when it comes to monitoring volcanic activity. Satellites may one day help give people an early warning of an eruption. Early warnings could help people know when to get out of a volcano’s way. One more way weather satellites can save lives!

VIIRS is a new tool. Right now it is only on one satellite. But it will also be on two other satellites scheduled to launch in the future. These satellites are part of a group of weather satellites called the Joint Polar Satel- lite System. VIIRS’s main job is to monitor weather around the globe.

That hasn’t stopped it from impressing scientists with its “extra-credit” projects, though.

Want to learn more about volcanoes? Check out “What is a volcano?” on NASA’s Space Place:

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 00:33