ELECTRIFICATION OF ASH IN ICELANDIC VOLCANIC PLUMES
Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Volcanic ash is known to charge electrically, producing some of the most spectacular displays of lightning on the planet. Lightning activity within volcanic plumes can be sensed remotely using systems such as the United Kingdom Met Office long-range lightning detection network, ATDnet, which recorded over 16 000 lightning strokes during the 2011 Grimsvötn eruption in Iceland. These remote sensing techniques can only be fully exploited if the charging mechanisms in volcanic plumes are well understood. Although the exact details of ash charging processes will vary from one eruption to another, triboelectrification, fractoemission, and the ‘‘dirty thunderstorm’’ mechanism are all thought to play a role in the electrification of ash near the vent. In addition to near-vent charging, observations show that charging can also occur in volcanic plumes up to hundreds of kilometres from the source region. The sustained nature of this charge in the presence of electrically conducting air suggests that a self-charging mechanism through the action of ash-to-ash contact charging (triboelectrification), may also play a role in the electrification of volcanic ash. This work describes a laboratory investigation into triboelectric charging of ash from the 2010 and 2011 volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn in Iceland respectively. Consistently with previous work, we find that the particle size distribution plays an important role in the magnitude of charging generated, specifically in terms of the normalized span of the particle size distribution. As well as triboelectrificiation, natural radioactivity in some volcanic ash could also contribute to self-charging of volcanic plumes, which is also examined here.