Triboelectric charging of volcanic ash from the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption

Isobel M.P. Houghton*, Karen L. Aplin, Keri A. Nicoll

*Corresponding author for this work

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

41 Citations (Scopus)


The plume from the 2011 eruption of Grímsvötn was highly electrically charged, as shown by the considerable lightning activity measured by the United Kingdom Met Office's low-frequency lightning detection network. Previous measurements of volcanic plumes have shown that ash particles are electrically charged up to hundreds of kilometers away from the vent, which indicates that the ash continues to charge in the plume [R. G. Harrison, K. A. Nicoll, Z. Ulanowski, and T. A. Mather, Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 024004 (2010)1748-932610.1088/1748-9326/5/2/024004; H. Hatakeyama J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn. 27, 372 (1949)JMSJAU0026-1165]. In this Letter, we study triboelectric charging of different size fractions of a sample of volcanic ash experimentally. Consistently with previous work, we find that the particle size distribution is a determining factor in the charging. Specifically, our laboratory experiments demonstrate that the normalized span of the particle size distribution plays an important role in the magnitude of charging generated. The influence of the normalized span on plume charging suggests that all ash plumes are likely to be charged, with implications for remote sensing and plume lifetime through scavenging effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118501
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2013


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