ESRL Global Systems Division

Successful Evaluation of NOAA's Volcanic Ash Coordination Tool

On May 25, 2005, in collaboration with operational facilities in Alaska, the NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL) participated in a formal evaluation of the Volcanic Ash Coordination Tool (VACT). This new technology provides a baseline set of meteorological displays, forecaster productivity tools, and graphical and text collaboration capabilities to facilitate timely and coordinated responses to aviation hazards posed by volcanic eruptions.

In order to test how well the VACT workstation meets its intended purposes, a scenario was developed to simulate a potentially "real" volcanic eruption in the North Pacific. The FSL development team has worked closely with the National Weather Service (NWS) Alaska Region operational staff and the NWS Volcanic Ash Program Manager to ensure that VACT meets the requirements for shared situational awareness and collaborative decision-making capabilities. The test last week showed that application of this new technology will lead to improved product timeliness and consistency, as required by the Alaska Interagency Operating Plan for Volcanic Ash Episodes. The successful VACT test was performed simultaneously at three operational locations: the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU), Alaska Volcano Observatory (supported by the U.S. Geological Survey and State of Alaska), and the Anchorage Center Weather Service Unit.

During the May 25 test, the participants used the VACT to perform their respective operational duties in a hypothetical volcanic ash episode. The volcanic ash scenario allowed users to become more proficient with VACT capabilities, and to develop and practice collaboration strategies and methodologies which may prove to be useful to operations. The development team also gathered feedback on new, modified, and/or unmet VACT requirements. The test demonstrated immediate benefits to operations by providing improved meteorological displays and communication tools, thereby enhancing the coordination among the three agencies responsible for volcanic ash hazard information dissemination in Alaska. It was agreed that the VACT provides capabilities which, when implemented operationally, will contribute to more timely and consistent volcanic ash advisories, ultimately improving aviation safety and efficiency.

Participants in the formal evaluation and other users are encouraged with VACT's responsiveness, dependability, and overall capability. "I am excited about the future of VACT in terms of enhanced capabilities and its use in [Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers]...operations," said Jeff Osiensky, deputy chief of the Environmental and Scientific Services Division of NWS Alaska Region Headquarters and manager of the NWS Volcanic Ash Program.

For more information and graphics illustrating how the VACT workstation will enable NOAA, FAA, and USGS to collaborate in the preparation of ash advisories, visit the VACT project Web site.

Contact information
Name: Dennis M Rodgers
Tel: 303-497-6933