Remote measurements of volcanic gas compositions by solar occultation spectroscopy

P Francis, M R Burton, C Oppenheimer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Volcanic gases have important effects on the atmosphere and climate(1,2) and are important indicators of subsurface magmatic processes(3,4) but they are difficult to measure. In situ sampling on volcanoes can provide detailed information(5-7) but is often impractical or hazardous. It is safer to apply remote techniques, for example correlation spectroscopy(8), which is now widely used to estimate emission rates of sulphur dioxide; but making remote measurements of other gas species has proved more difficult. Developments in Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, however,have shown promise(9-11). Here we report Fourier-transform infrared observations of volcanic plume compositions that we obtained by solar occultation at Mount Etna in 1997. We found molar ratios of SO2:HCl and SO2:HF to be similar to 4.0 and 10, corresponding to emission rates of HCl and HF of about 8.6 and 2.2 kgs(-1), respectively, confirming Mount Etna as the largest known sustained point source of these gases. Solar occultation spectroscopy has advantages over other methods as it enables measurement of plume compositions several kilometres downwind, without requiring hot rocks or lamp sources. The regular and frequent observation of volcanic gases provides a valuable tool for volcano surveillance, and data from plumes at different distances downwind of a volcano's summit may help us to understand the atmospheric chemistry involved in plume dispersal.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)567-570
    Number of pages4
    Issue number6711
    Publication statusPublished - 1998


    • sulfur-dioxide
    • mount etna
    • mt etna
    • emissions
    • atmosphere
    • plumes
    • particle
    • co2
    • so2


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