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Better Assessment of Ash Cloud Hazards is Goal of UB Volcanologist's Research

Professor to meet with aviation officials, scientists, at Iceland meetings on the 2010 eruption

Release Date: September 10, 2010

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UB volcanologist Marcus Bursik has been funded by the NSF to study volcanic plumes in order to help aviation officials better determine flight routes and no-fly zones during volcanic crises.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A University at Buffalo volcanologist who is an expert in volcanic ash clouds and their impact on air travel is available to speak with news media about new scientific research he is conducting on better assessing the hazards of volcanic ash clouds.

Marcus Bursik, PhD, UB professor and chair of the Department of Geology in UB's College of Arts and Sciences, will travel to Iceland next week, where he will attend two major meetings Sept.15-19 on last spring's eruption at Eyjafjallajökull and participate in a tour of the volcano.

A recent recipient of a National Science Foundation RAPID Response Research grant to address some of the aviation issues posed by volcanic plumes, Bursik is principal investigator on an NSF grant to study "Particle Trajectories in Volcanic Plumes: Tracking the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull Plume."

"The purpose of our research is to help improve the international community's ability to assess ash cloud hazards," says Bursik. "Our research could have important ramifications for air traffic over the next several years and has the potential to result in important savings to industry by developing tools that will make possible more precise assessments of the hazards of ash clouds."

He notes that historic eruptions at the Eyjafjallajökull volcano have lasted for a year or more and triggered eruptions at nearby Katla volcano, which in the 18th century produced such dense smog that it destroyed crops and livestock.

"Some of our goals, for example, are better assessment of the particle concentration and trajectories of the ash clouds that will help aviation officials better determine flight routes and no-fly zones during volcanic crises," says Bursik.

To improve the understanding of all of the uncertain variables that affect the behavior of a volcanic ash cloud plume, such as eruption strength and wind speed, Bursik and his colleagues will employ several modeling techniques, including ensemble forecasting, a statistical prediction method, to develop probabilistic ash cloud maps as well as volcanic ash dispersion models.

"We will use the models to 'hindcast' the direction of the ash cloud produced last spring by Eyjafjallajökull, meaning we will run model tests to see whether it can accurately predict the course of that ash cloud," he explains. "If so, then that gives us confidence that the model can produce the probabilistic estimates of potential ash cloud behavior."

Co-investigators on the grant include Matthew Jones, PhD, deputy director of the Center for Computational Research in UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and UB faculty members in the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Additional investigators include colleagues at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks NOAA-NESDIS and Michigan Technological University.

Bursik is a member of the UB Center for GeoHazards Studies at http://www.geohazards.buffalo.edu which is supporting the strategic strength in mitigation and response to extreme events identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan for academic, research and service excellence.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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