Requirements and Implementation Feasibility for a CubeSat Thermal Infrared Imaging System to Monitor the Structure of Volcanic Ash Clouds

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Denise Thorsen1, Russell Carroll1, Peter Webley2 and Joseph Hawkins1, (1)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (2)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK, United States
The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland caused the cancellation of approximately 108,000 flights over an 8-day period, disrupted air traffic worldwide, and cost the airline industry more than $400 million per day. The inconvenience and economic impact of this and similar events, such as Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle in 2011, have heightened the interest in developing improved satellite remote sensing techniques for monitoring volcanic plumes and drifting clouds.   For aviation safety, the operational/research community has started to move towards classifying the concentrations within volcanic plumes and clouds. Additionally, volcanic ash transport and dispersion (VATD) models are often used for forecasting ash cloud locations and they require knowledge of the structure of the erupting column to improve their ash simulations and also downwind 3-D maps of the ash cloud to calibrate/validate their modeling output.   Existing remote sensing satellites utilize a brightness temperature method with thermal infrared (TIR) measurements from 10 – 12 μm to determine mass loading of volcanic ash along a single line of sight, but they have infrequent revisit times and they cannot resolve the three-dimensional structure of the ash clouds. A cluster of CubeSats dedicated to the monitoring of volcanic ash and plumes could provide both more frequent updates and the multi-aspect images needed to resolve the density structure of volcanic ash clouds and plumes.   In this presentation, we discuss the feasibility and requirements for a CubeSat TIR imaging system and the associated on-board image processing that would be required to monitor the structure of volcanic ash clouds from Low Earth Orbit.