NUI Galway scientists develop volcanic ash forecasting model

10 May 2010

Ash anxiety could be a thing of the past thanks to a group of researchers at the Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies at NUI Galway, who have developed a method of forecasting and assessing the plume dispersion from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

Air travellers will be relieved to discover that the volcanic plume forecasting model, the first of its kind in Ireland, is expected to be one of the most sophisticated in Europe after further refinement over the coming weeks. The model is currently producing four-day forecasts of plume density and dispersion at least twice a day, and over the next week this will increase to six-day forecasts four times daily.

While the new model is not expected to replace the official London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre for aviation decisions initially, it will provide an additional informative tool for potential air travellers and allow them to make more informed travel decisions.

“The rapid development of the volcanic plume forecasting model to provide Ireland’s own capability of assessment and prediction is not only an excellent example of national collaboration and solidarity amongst key scientific partners in times of national need, but also of innovation and a capacity for rapid response in a crisis.

“The combined skill of NUI Galway in atmospheric physics and air pollution research, Met Éireann in weather and climate research, and the Irish Centre for High End Computing (ICHEC) in computational science, was the perfect recipe for the rapid success,” said Prof Colin O’Dowd, director of the Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies at NUI Galway.

“The ICHEC supercomputers have been critical to accommodating the daily influx of terabytes of model initialisation data and the number crunching of these data in highly complex regional climate and weather forecasting models used in the prediction facility.

“Essential to the success was the ability of ICHEC to contribute computational research scientists to the demanding challenge of optimising computer code for parallel supercomputing, involving 2,500 parallel processors, necessary to address complex problems. The underlying research funding that enabled this significant achievement was provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Higher Education Authority and Science Foundation Ireland,” O’Dowd added.

By Deirdre Nolan

Photo: The Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland

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