Mount Agung erupting plume. During volcano eruption thousands of people was evacuated from dangerous zone because of the threat of explosive eruption and the danger of pyroclastic flows. Airline flights to Bali were canceled, Denpasar airport closed because of volcanic ash clouds in the air.

Volcanic Ash and Space Weather

A global threat to aviation

Global air transportation is experiencing hazards like volcanic ash and space weather as well. The abrasive nature of volcanic ash can result in engine damage and malfunction, and potential loss of thrust. It can also result in windshields becoming abraded to the point where pilots no longer can see outside. Moreover, electric charges within ash clouds may interfere with communications. Thus, flights will try to avoid airspace contaminated by volcanic ash by all means possible.

Significant natural perturbations coming from the sun are referred to as space weather. These geomagnetic storms (i.e., coronal mass ejections, solar energetic particles, and solar flares) can influence the performance and reliability of ground-based, air- and spaceborne systems (like global satellite navigation and high-frequency communication, magnetic compass, and electric power grids), and the increased radiation exposure can affect human health.

Research and Development Areas

Solar Research

NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory (HAO) conducts world-leading science that improves the understanding of the key physical processes and advances the next-generation prediction capability of space weather hazards and their impacts on the Earth, people, and technology. HAO also maintains a state-of-the-art solar observing facility at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
•    Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO)

Global Hazard Prediction Centers

Given the significant impacts of volcanic ash and space weather events, global prediction centers have been established that alert and inform the aviation industry about such events.
•    ICAO Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC)
•    NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC)

Education & Training

The COMET Program offers a variety of educational materials through its MetEd website. The portal provides access to information about aviation weather, volcanic ash, and space weather, among many other topics.
•    COMET MetEd


Matthias Steiner

Director, Aviation Applications Program