Volcanic ash hazards to aviation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences

Abstract

Volcanic eruptions have major impacts on communities, economies and climate. Explosive eruptions cause loss of life and livelihoods, disruption to supply chains and transport, and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Aerosols, gases and ash emitted in explosive eruptions all present a threat to aviation safety. Exposure to airborne volcanic ash can cause significant damage to aero engines and there have been nine recorded instances of engine shut down due to this kind of exposure to date. Airborne ash also has significant impacts on some of the materials used on platform airframes for example cockpit windscreens and sensors.

Key challenges in the management of the volcanic ash hazard are to:
1. Identify where high ash hazard can be expected in the future.
2. Predict how many incidents of comparable magnitude to the 2010 Iceland event, or greater, can be expected in the coming decades.

Answers to these questions will help inform decision-making on mitigation measures and also determine the appropriate level of resources required to maintain robust and effective levels of global aviation safety.
Although the rate of global volcanism is thought to be steady over long periods of time, there are large variations in rates of eruptions on time scales of years to many decades. While the hazard is variable and uncertain on annual timescales, the risk posed is certainly increasing; global air traffic continues to increase rapidly and developments in the sophistication of aircraft and the efficiency of their engines (broadly a function of operating temperature) may make them more vulnerable to ash.
The school of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol can claim to be world-leading, and perfectly positioned to address this grand challenge. The group is the largest in the UK and focuses on understanding magmatism by combining field geology, petrology, geochemistry, physical volcanology and thermodynamic modelling, and on the analysis of associated hazards and risks, including formalised use of expert judgement in decision-making. Pertinent to this proposal is the groups' efforts to improve understanding of explosive volcanic eruptions by integrating a global database with studies of the formation, transport and deposition of volcanic materials, coupled with novel approaches to hazard and risk assessment. The group has raised over twenty million pounds in the last five years and is involved in many key efforts pertaining to physical volcanology and risk including GVM, VOLDIES, VUELCO, VANAHEIM, STREVA, CREDIBLE and FutureVolc.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/P510427/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1953095 Studentship EP/P510427/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Joshua Lucas