PSU researcher to examine volcanic ash to aid evacuations
Author: Kurt Bedell, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: March 28, 2018

Helping emergency responders predict where ash from exploding volcanoes will fall and how heavy it will accumulate is the focus of new $624,000 National Science Foundation-funded project that involves researchers from Portland State University.

Portland State Engineering Professor Raul Bayoán Cal and his collaborators from Stanford University, Washington State University Vancouver and the U.S. Geological Survey will study how ash behaves during a volcanic eruption so that communities can make informed decisions about shelter and evacuation and help air traffic controllers when disaster strikes.

“The 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland was extremely disruptive to air traffic and affected millions of air passengers,” said Cal, who recently completed another NSF-funded research project on volcanoes. “Air traffic controllers had to create a huge no-fly zone during the eruption and its aftermath, much larger than was really needed. With this research, we will gain a better understanding of exactly how far volcanic particles drift and how they cluster, so that future emergency evacuations can be much more precise.”

With his background in fluid mechanics and air turbulence, Cal will use high-resolution cameras and powerful lasers to track the size, behavior and movement of particles and how they break up and come together in the atmosphere.

Cal and his collaborators plan to share their findings with the community through an exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. They already have a permanent exhibit there that uses a ketchup bottle with flour inside to simulates how a volcano shoots ash into the sky.