Hazards and risks from volcanic ash

Name of applicant

Johanne Schmith


DKK 425,000



Type of grant

Internationalisation Fellowships


Why does a volcano start to erupt violent plumes of volcanic ash and who will be affected? This question became vital for the inhabitants of the state and island of Hawaii, USA as a 10 km high ash plume rose from the summit of Kīlauea volcano on May 17th 2018 with explosions continuing for several weeks. The aim of this project is to provide an answer by studying the formation of ash plumes from Kīlauea. Furthermore the project aims to quantify the risk of future eruptions based on different eruption scenarios, which are defined by the historic behaviour of the volcano. The findings of the study will be integrated with new communication strategies at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to ensure local impact of the results, and to reach the people, whose lives and livelihoods are at risk.


Volcanic ash is the most widespread of all volcanic hazards. It can cause respiratory problems in humans and animals, cause jet engine damage/shutdown in airplanes, clog air filters, block and contaminate water supplies, and adversely affect the agriculture, ground transportation, and tourism industry. Basaltic volcanism dominates worldwide, but is typically percieved to generate little ash. Therefore it is often omitted in hazard and risk assessments. However, new studies show that basaltic eruptions generate much bigger ash plumes than previously thought. Therefore the risk potential of basaltic ash plumes need to be quantified. Kīlauea is the type locality of basaltic volcanism with a 300-year period of frequent explosive activity, making it the ideal natural laboratory for this study.


The study is a combination of field studies, laboratory processing and computer modelling. The fieldwork is to be carried out on the rim of the active volcano Kīlauea in Hawaii, where meters of ash covers the summit area in several places. The deposits will be measured, sampled and mapped out. Subsequently, samples will be taken to the lab to measure the size of the ash grains, their shape, density and grain type. Then all information will be used in a number of integrated computer models to achieve mathematical parameters describing the size of the eruptions. Further modeling using these parameters will show, which areas could be affected by similar size and type of eruptions today. Finally maps of hazards and risks are produced to local authorities for emergency planning.

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