Horizontal and vertical structure of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud over the UK: a comparison of airborne lidar observations and simulations
1Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK
2Met Office, Exeter, UK
Abstract. During April and May 2010 the ash cloud from the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused widespread disruption to aviation over northern Europe. Because of the location and impact of the eruption a wealth of observations of the ash cloud were obtained and can be used to assess modelling of the long range transport of ash in the troposphere. The UK's BAe-146-301 Atmospheric Research Aircraft overflew the ash cloud on a number of days during May. The aircraft carries a downward looking lidar which detected the ash layer through the backscatter of the laser light. The ash concentrations are estimated from lidar extinction coefficients and in situ measurements of the ash particle size distributions. In this study these estimates of the ash concentrations are compared with simulations of the ash cloud made with NAME (Numerical Atmospheric-dispersion Modelling Environment), a general purpose atmospheric transport and dispersion model.
The ash layers seen by the lidar were thin, with typical depths of 550–750 m. The vertical structure of the ash cloud simulated by NAME was generally consistent with the observed ash layers. The layers in the simulated ash clouds that could be identified with observed ash layers are about twice the depth of the observed layers. The structure of the simulated ash clouds were sensitive to the profile of ash emissions that was assumed. In terms of horizontal and vertical structure the best results were mainly obtained by assuming that the emission occurred at the top of the eruption plume, consistent with the observed structure of eruption plumes. However, when the height of the eruption plume was variable and the eruption was weak, then assuming that the emission of ash was uniform with height gave better guidance on the horizontal and vertical structure of the ash cloud.
Comparison between the column masses in the simulated and observed ash layers suggests that about 3% of the total mass erupted by the volcano remained in the ash cloud over the United Kingdom. The problems with the interpretation of this estimate of the distal fine ash fraction are discussed.