This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Volcanic Mesocyclones and Lightning

Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Nearly 20 years later, scientists made careful measurements of the position of the top of the eruption column, the "umbrella", and noted that it rotated (see Chakraborty, P., Gioia, G., and Kieffer, S., Volcanic Mesocyclones, Nature, 458, 497-500, 2010). The rotation induced an instability manifested as waves or lobes on the edge of the umbrella, as shown in the attached figure (from the Nature paper). The image shows a satellite view of the umbrella of Pinatubo. The graph shows rotation rate and growth rate of the umbrella.

The two sketches above show the outline of the edge at different times as documented by satellite photos, and the graphs in the lower left show measured rotation rates. Details are in the Nature paper.

By analogy with meteorologic cyclones, Chakraborty et al. called the eruption plume a "volcanic mesocyclone". Three key elements interact to produce tornadic structures such as dust devils and waterspouts: updraft in the center, downdraughts, and the rotating mesocyclone. Chakraborty et al. proposed that the mesocyclone pulls the ash radially outwards from the core of the updraught, gathering it in an outer sheath where it discharges to produce the spectacular lightning displays that can accompany volcanic eruptions. The color image shows such lightning in the current eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. It was taken by Marco Fulle. The other image shows (a) waterspouts spawned during the eruption of Surtsey volcano on November 14, 1963, and (b) the lightning sheath from Mount Chaiten on May 3, 2008.

Contact me at s1kieffer@gmail.com if you would like a PDF of the Nature paper.

No comments: