Electrification Processes and Lightning Generation in Volcanic Plumes—Observations from Recent Eruptions

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Lightning in volcanic plumes provides a promising way to monitor ash-producing eruptions and investigate their dynamics. Among the many methods of lightning detection are global networks of sensors that detect electromagnetic radiation in the very low frequency band (3–30 kHz), including the World Wide Lightning Location Network. These radio waves propagate thousands of kilometers at the speed of light, providing an opportunity for rapid detection of explosive volcanism anywhere in the world. Lightning is particularly valuable as a near real-time indicator of ash-rich plumes that are hazardous to aviation. Yet many fundamental questions remain. Under what conditions does electrical activity in volcanic plumes become powerful, detectable lightning? And conversely, can we use lightning to illuminate eruption processes and hazards? This study highlights recent observations from the eruptions of Redoubt (Alaska, 2009), Kelud (Indonesia, 2014), Calbuco (Chile, 2015), and Bogoslof (Alaska, 2017) to examine volcanic lighting from a range of eruption styles (Surtseyan to Plinian) and mass eruption rates from 10^5 to 10^8 kg/s. It is clear that lightning stroke-rates do not scale in a simple way with mass eruption rate or plume height across different eruptions. However, relative changes in electrical activity through individual eruptions relate to changes in eruptive intensity, ice content, and volcanic plume processes (fall vs. flow).

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Presented at the AGU Fall Meeting on December 11, 2017 in New Orleans, LA