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Alaskan Volcano Plume & Historic Kansas Fire Seen from Space

In late March 2016, Pavlof volcano on the Alaskan Peninsula began erupting again for the first time since November 2014. Alaska’s most active volcano has erupted six times since 1996 and 21 times in the past 50 years.

pavlof_tmo_2016088According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, this eruption was the most energetic since 1996. It sent ash and gas as high as 11 kilometers (37,000 feet) above sea level, causing the cancellation of several dozen flights in the region. Volcanic ash can pose significant hazards to airplanes as the fine, glassy particles can scour windows and clog or stall jet engines.

Pavlof was most active on March 27–28, but then seismic activity and emissions waned through the rest of the week. Reports from nearby scientific and coast guard observers suggest that the eruption produced volcanic mud flows and lava flows. Ash fell on Alaskan villages to the northeast, including Nelson Lagoon, where residents reported a coating of as much as two-thirds of an inch (1.7 centimeters).
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites acquired images of the ash plume at 11:45 a.m. Alaska time (21:45 Universal Time) and 1:35 p.m. (23:35) on March 28, 2016. By March 31, the volcano was still emitting some ash and gas, though the plume did not rise higher than 2.5 kilometers (8,000 feet).

Other NASA sensors also observed Pavlof’s emissions. The Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite flew over the plume about 40 minutes after the Aqua satellite on March 28. The satellite has a lidar instrument, CALIOP, which uses laser pulses to create a profile of clouds and particles in the atmosphere. The instrument detected ash between 3 and 6 kilometers in altitude at the time of the March 28 overpass. Such observations can help researchers improve forecasting models and issue more accurate warnings to pilots.


On the same day, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on Aqua detected the sulfur dioxide emissions from the eruption. Sulfur dioxide, or SO2, is a colorless, pungent gas that can be both an air pollutant and important atmospheric component, depending on where it resides. Along with water vapor and carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide is one of the most abundant gas emissions during volcanic eruptions.


Kansas / Oklahoma Wildfire

In late March 2016, wildfire raged across rural areas of Kansas and Oklahoma. Local authorities and media outlets are calling it the largest grass fire in Kansas history. The Anderson Creek fire started in northern Oklahoma on March 22 and proceeded to burn more than 620 square miles (1600 square kilometers) of prairie and cattle grazing land. No human deaths have been reported, though 600 cattle were killed by the fires. At least 16 homes and 25 structures were lost, as were countless miles of fencing.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired these two natural-color images of the fire. The first shows the extensive smoke plumes as winds whipped the fires on March 23, 2016. The second image shows the scarred land as it appeared on March 27. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the change.

The wildfire spread quickly due to dry conditions in the region; rainfall has been below normal this spring. By March 31, the fire was close to 90 percent contained, thanks to work by fire crews, the National Guard, and a few inches of snow. Click here to view drone footage of the fire at its peak.

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