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January 21, 2014 > Space Place NASA Column: Weather Satellite Senses Volcanic Clues from Space

Space Place NASA Column: Weather Satellite Senses Volcanic Clues from Space

By Alex H. Kasprak

Mount Sakurajima is a big volcano in Japan. It erupted on August 18th 2013. The eruption shot a huge plume of ash over 3 miles into the sky. This was the highest ash plume in its recorded history. The nearby city of Kagoshima grew dark during the day from all the ash in the sky.

Up in the sky above all that ash, a powerful tool on a weather satellite, called VIIRS, saw heat coming from the volcano. VIIRS provides images like a very fancy camera. It can see more than what is visible to the naked eye and can also sense heat.

ThatÕs what happened 14 hours before Mount Sakurajima erupted. It saw the land around the volcano get a bit warmer. The warmth came from a plume of melted rock under the volcano. This change in temperature was too small to notice if you were just sitting on the ground. But VIIRS noticed something was different from high up in the sky.

ItÕs hard to predict volcanic eruptions. VIIRS could be a valuable tool when it comes to monitoring volcanic activity. Satellites may one day help give people an early warning of an eruption. Early warnings could help people know when to get out of a volcanoÕs way. One more way weather satellites can save lives!
VIIRS is a new tool. Right now it is only on one satellite. But it will also be on two other satellites scheduled to launch in the future. These satellites are part of a group of weather satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System. VIIRSÕs main job is to monitor weather around the globe.
That hasnÕt stopped it from impressing scientists with its Òextra-creditÓ projects, though.
Want to learn more about volcanoes? Check out ÒWhat is a volcano?Ó on NASAÕs Space Place:

Mount Sakurajima erupts on October 3rd 2009. Credit: Krypton.
Editors download photo here:
Laura K. Lincoln
Communication Coordinator
NASA's Space Place
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
4800 Oak Grove Drive, M/S 201-101
Pasadena, CAÊ 91109
Phone: (818) 393-5936 ¥ Fax: (818) 354-9068
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