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Ash sedimentation by fingering and sediment thermals from wind-affected volcanic plumes

Abstract : Ash fallout and volcanic plume dispersion represent critical hazards for local and global human populations for minutes to years after the onset of an eruption. Understanding the key processes governing the sedimentation of ash particles is a major challenge in modern volcanology from modeling and risk management perspectives. Recent experiments predict that sedimentation from eruption clouds rich in fine-grained ash can be driven by convective phenomena in the form of ∼100 m to km-scale ash fingers related to the intermittent formation and detaching of ash-rich particle boundary layer. Remote sensing observations of mammatus and cloud veils from numerous eruptions over recent years as well as field observations of spatially discontinuous ash deposits are consistent with this prediction. Indeed, this mode of ash sedimentation is predicted to be the predominant mechanism of fine ash removal for a significant fraction of eruptions in the geological records. Here, we use a novel combination of 3 millimeter-wavelength Doppler radar observations and time series of optical disdrometer data to characterize for the first time in real-time the time-varying structure and sedimentation properties of volcanic ash plumes under steady wind conditions. As a case study, we apply this new method to weak short-lived plumes from Stromboli Volcano. 96% of the disdrometer proximal sedimentation data highlight pulsatory phases of increased sedimentation rate that are 20–60 s apart and characterized by particle size distribution variation with bulk concentrations up to 681 mg/m3. Radar data also record intermittent periods of higher reflectivity (i.e. a factor of 3 in mass concentration) inside the ash sedimentation interspersed by 30 to 50 s and interpreted as ash fingers crossing the radar beam. From time series of radar signals and ground-based disdrometer measurements, together with simple analog experiments, we develop a conceptual model for intermittent sedimentation from wind-affected ash plumes. In particular, we show that when wind speeds are comparable to or greater than ash settling velocities, the dynamics of wind-driven rolls in ash clouds can govern the production of gravitational instabilities and the occurrence and timing of ash fingers that form descending sediment thermals in turn. This study suggests that ambient wind should affect the maximum size and minimum concentration of ash particles needed to form fingers but also control where and when fingers form at the base of wind-drifted ash plumes. These novel predictions highlight the need for future work aimed at refining our understanding of ash finger formation under windy conditions from the perspectives of in-situ characterization, numerical modeling and risk assessment of fine ash dispersal from the most frequent style of eruptions on Earth.
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Valentin Freret-Lorgeril, J. Gilchrist, F. Donnadieu, A.M. Jellinek, Julien Delanoë, et al.. Ash sedimentation by fingering and sediment thermals from wind-affected volcanic plumes. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Elsevier, 2020, 534 (15 March), pp.art. 116072. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2020.116072⟩. ⟨insu-02458944⟩

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