Using Lightning Observations as a Volcanic Eruption Monitoring Tool

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Volcano monitoring, Lightning, Lightning detection, Explosive volcanism

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Lightning commonly occurs in the eruption columns produced by explosive volcanic eruptions. There are several different kinds of lightning detection instruments that could be employed to help monitor volcanoes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Very low frequency (VLF) instruments have the ability to detect lightning at long ranges but tend to have low sensitivity due to network geometry and typically can provide only the time and 2-D location of a cloud-to-ground return stroke or similar high-amplitude pulse produced by an intracloud discharge. Low frequency (LF) and medium frequency (MF) instruments typically have more sensitivity than a VLF network but can only be used for detection on a regional scale. Very high frequency (VHF) lightning mapping instruments also provide only regional coverage but detect all lightning within their range. During the 2009 eruption of Redoubt Volcano, Alaska, USA, each of these types of instruments detected lightning from Redoubt’s ash plume. The VHF system consistently detected lightning before the other two during each distinct explosive event and also detected more lightning than the others, by one or two orders of magnitude. Lightning observations could be used to confirm, and in some cases, detect explosive volcanic activity. The rapid response provided by lightning monitoring is a valuable tool for fast identification of potentially hazardous ash clouds.

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Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 76, issue 8, art. 847