Terrestrial Tour: A Volcano Menaces the Skies

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Satellites have been observing volcanoes for years, allowing scientists and engineers to develop proven techniques for monitoring eruptions. 

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA except:
·       Aerial photo of Mt. Erebus: Jeanie Mackinder
·       Ground-based photo of Mt. Erebus: Dr. Eric Christian / NASA
·       Sea creature illustration copyright The National Library of Israel, Shapell Family Digitization Project _and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Geography – Historic Cities Research Project
·       Ground-based photos of Eyjafjallajökull: David Karnå
·       Eyjafjallajökull video footage: Ágúst Guðbjörnsson / agustgudbjornsson.com
·       EO-1 satellite illustration: ATK
·       Fimmvörðuháls fissure photo: Henrik Thorburn
·       Simulation of ash spreading over Europe: Nina Kristiansen, Sabine Eckhardt, NILU
·       Eyjafjallajökull panorama: Henrik Thorburn
·       Mount St. Helens aerial photo: USGS
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music
Written by Tracy Vogel
Designed by Marc Lussier

Text, A Volcano Menaces the Skies
A volcano erupts. Text, on March 21, 2010, just around midnight, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland rumbled to life for the first time in nearly 200 years.
NASA satellites had already been monitoring Earth when the volcano awoke.
The view from space of the volcano.
March 24, 2010. Lava seeped toward the east.
White columns of volcanic gases and steam from melting snow boiled into the air.
New vents opened in the Earth, spilling forth more molten rock.
As the volcano's heat melted snow and ice, hundreds of people evacuated their homes in areas threatened by flooding.
It was the beginning of a saga that would end up stranding millions more.
On April 14, 2010, Eyjafjallajökull erupted again, this time pumping out vast clouds of volcanic ash.
The ash rose into the jet stream, the fast-moving current of air where airplanes fly to save fuel.
The jet stream carried the ash over Europe.
The fine, glassy particles threatened to clog plane engines. Across Europe, flights were canceled.
Travelers were stranded for days as the governments of over 30 countries tried to determine when it would be safe to fly again.
The critical question was where the ash had traveled.
How high was it in the atmosphere?
Fortunately, satellites were able to help provide an answer.
Tracking the ash. An aerial view over the volcano.
A green rectangle highlights the area between Iceland and volcanic ash.
Text, Mapping ash in the atmosphere. Satellites mapped the location of ash in the sky, keeping airplanes and passengers out of harm's way.
NASA Terra Satellite Data, Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, April 19, 2010. A color-coded map of ash height. Text, Satellite monitoring, shown here, informed scientists when the danger of ash in the jet stream had passed and air travel could resume safely.
Four aerial views of Ulawun Volcano in Papua New Guinea, Shiveluch Volcano in Russia, Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand, and Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Text, Satellites have been observing volcanoes for years, allowing scientists and engineers to develop proven techniques for monitoring eruptions.
Volcanoes have always been an unpredictable force of nature.
With the help of satellite imagery, we come closer to understanding these volatile giants.
A volcano erupts.