Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
Research article
28 May 2014
Research article |  | 28 May 2014

Volcanic ash detection with infrared limb sounding: MIPAS observations and radiative transfer simulations

S. Griessbach, L. Hoffmann, R. Spang, and M. Riese

Abstract. Small volcanic ash particles have long residence times in the troposphere and the stratosphere so that they have significant impact on the Earth's radiative budget and consequently affect climate. For global long-term observations of volcanic aerosol, infrared limb measurements provide excellent coverage, sensitivity to thin aerosol layers, and altitude information. The optical properties of volcanic ash and ice particles, derived from micro-physical properties, have opposing spectral gradients between 700 and 960 cm−1 for small particle sizes. Radiative transfer simulations that account for single scattering showed that the opposing spectral gradients directly transfer to infrared limb spectra. Indeed, we found the characteristic spectral signature, expected for volcanic ash, in measurements of the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) after the eruption of the Chilean volcano Puyehue-Cordón Caulle in June 2011. From these measurements we derived an ash detection threshold function. The empirical ash detection threshold was confirmed in an extensive simulations study covering a wide range of atmospheric conditions, particle sizes and particle concentrations for ice, volcanic ash and sulfate aerosol. From the simulations we derived the upper detectable effective radius of 3.5 μm and the detectable extinction coefficient range of 5 × 10−3 to 1 × 10−1 km−1. We also showed that this method is only sensitive to volcanic ash particles, but not to volcanic sulfate aerosol. This volcanic ash detection method for infrared limb measurements is a fast and reliable method and provides complementary information to existing satellite aerosol products.