Volcanic Ash: Science, Impacts and Forecasting Course

Volcanic Ash: Science, Impacts and Forecasting Course


The focus of this series of modules is to provide the operational meteorologist with a thorough understanding of the cause and characteristics of volcanic eruptions, detecting volcanic ash, forecasting plume movement, and assessing societal impacts.

This knowledge will increase the meteorologist’s situational awareness regarding volcanoes and volcanic eruptions. It also will enable one to interpret the various volcanic products and translate scientific information about volcanoes into terms that are meaningful to the public.

Goals and Objectives

  1. Identify and describe the geological elements involved in volcanic eruptions, eruption types and their ash dispersion patterns, and the most common volcanic hazards and the threats they pose
  2. Describe the mechanical and chemical impacts of volcanic ash on aircraft and ships.
  3. Explain the impacts of volcanic ash on atmospheric processes in both the short-term (weather) and in the long-term (climate)
  4. Describe the impacts of volcanic ash on the general public
  5. Utilize available remote sensing, model data and observations to evaluate the presence of volcanic ash.
  6. Describe the strengths and weaknesses of various satellite and radar products.
  7. Use HYSPLIT model output to determine areas that will be affected by volcanic ash.
  8. Develop forecast and warning products that inform customers and the general public of potential volcanic ash hazards.


Volcanic eruptions and ash production can cause great hardship to local and regional communities through ash fall, mudflows, and water pollution. These eruptions, with their plumes of drifting ash, not only cause substantial delays to flight operations, but can also produce significant damage to both aircraft and equipment. Additionally, the dust and gases released during eruptions can affect the earth’s climate in both the short and long term depending on the interaction between the volcanic material and sunlight. Furthermore, ash fall can pose multiple impacts to society that range from property damage to health hazards.

In light of the widespread impacts of volcanic eruption, any Federal, State, Local, governmental or non-governmental agency throughout the world charged with responding to natural incidents needs to be familiar with the processes and hazards posed by such eruptions. This understanding will enable them to mitigate harm, provide critical information for allocation of response assets, aid planning and response decision-making, document damages, and restore adverse effects on natural resources.

This course consists of an introduction and three core topics related to volcanic ash. To receive a course completion certificate, you must successfully complete all four modules which will take about four hours.

Course Outline

Additional Resources

Links to data sources that may not be available through operational data display software are included through the module resources page linked to the module Volcanic Ash: Observation Tools and Dispersion Models

Course Outline