Probabilistic detection of volcanic ash using a Bayesian approach

Shona Mackie*, Matthew Watson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Airborne volcanic ash can pose a hazard to aviation, agriculture, and both human and animal health. It is therefore important that ash clouds are monitored both day and night, even when they travel far from their source. Infrared satellite data provide perhaps the only means of doing this, and since the hugely expensive ash crisis that followed the 2010 Eyjafjalljökull eruption, much research has been carried out into techniques for discriminating ash in such data and for deriving key properties. Such techniques are generally specific to data from particular sensors, and most approaches result in a binary classification of pixels into "ash" and "ash free" classes with no indication of the classification certainty for individual pixels. Furthermore, almost all operational methods rely on expert-set thresholds to determine what constitutes "ash" and can therefore be criticized for being subjective and dependent on expertise that may not remain with an institution. Very few existing methods exploit available contemporaneous atmospheric data to inform the detection, despite the sensitivity of most techniques to atmospheric parameters. The Bayesian method proposed here does exploit such data and gives a probabilistic, physically based classification. We provide an example of the method's implementation for a scene containing both land and sea observations, and a large area of desert dust (often misidentified as ash by other methods). The technique has already been successfully applied to other detection problems in remote sensing, and this work shows that it will be a useful and effective tool for ash detection.

KEY POINTS: Presentation of a probabilistic volcanic ash detection schemeMethod for calculation of probability density function for ash observationsDemonstration of a remote sensing technique for monitoring volcanic ash hazards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2409-2428
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2014


  • volcanic ash
  • Bayesian
  • probabilistic detection
  • infrared remote sensing
  • satellite remote sensing
  • hazard monitoring

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