NOAA Collaborates to Implement the Volcanic Ash Coordination Tool

The NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL), in collaboration with other federal and state agencies, has developed and installed the Volcanic Ash Coordination Tool (VACT) to help mitigate the effects of volcanic ash on aviation operations in the North Pacific. More than 100 active volcanoes have the potential to create serious aviation hazards for the 200 flights that traverse the skies over that region daily. These volcanoes spew ash to flight levels four or five times a year, delaying flight operations and causing aircraft damage, amounting to $250M over the last 20 years.

The VACT user workstation, supported by National Weather Service aviation base funds and FAA's Aviation Weather Research Program, offers many features to increase aviation safety. It includes the PUFF volcanic ash transport model that calculates the movement of airborne ash after a volcanic eruption. This ash dispersion model utilizes operational forecast model output from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and the UK Meteorological Office for global coverage. VACT is also capable of displaying high-resolution (1-km and 1.6-km) polar orbiting satellite datasets created at NWS Alaska Region Headquarters, along with custom color enhancements to highlight volcanic ash density and cloud migration and dispersion. Other custom features include mouse cursor interrogation of plotted volcano locations to extract volcano name, Smithsonian number, elevation, latitude/longitude location, last eruption date, and seismic monitoring.

Specialists in FSL's Aviation Division recently installed VACT software on nine systems at four Alaska locations: the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU), the Anchorage Center Weather Service Unit, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, and the National Weather Service Alaska Regional Headquarters. They have trained forecasters, Meteorologists-In-Charge, and geophysicists on VACT features and on methods to use the VACT to ingest user-enhanced satellite data and other local datasets to improve shared situational awareness and collaborative decision-making among the cooperating agencies. Other meteorological displays can be overlaid and shared in real-time collaboration sessions among the operational agencies responsible for volcanic ash forecasts and warnings, leading to more accurate and consistent ash advisories. Users are impressed with VACT's responsiveness, dependability, and overall capability. For example, Jeff Osiensky, MIC at AAWU, comments, "Having a tool which enables shared situational awareness and data sharing will benefit the volcanic ash program in the North Pacific."

A formal evaluation of VACT is scheduled for early 2005. It will be conducted in operational environments and will involve interagency (NOAA, FAA, USGS) collaboration in the preparation of ash advisories for realistic volcanic eruption scenarios. For more information, including graphics, on this topic, see the VACT project page.

Contact information
Name: Dennis M Rodgers
Tel: 303-497-6993