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Scientists study whether vog weakens storms

By Gary T. Kubota

LAST UPDATED: 3:11 p.m. HST, Aug 6, 2014

Scientists will be watching the way Kilauea's vog affects Hurricane Iselle as part of a study exploring whether gas and particles from volcanoes might hold a key to weakening tropical storms.

"It's going to be interesting," said researcher Andre Pattantyus, a graduate assistant with the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Using satellite imagery and ground-based lightning detectors, UH researchers noticed in July 2013 that vog, or volcanic smog, from Kilauea Volcano seemed to increase lightning and raindrops when it was transported by the wind into Tropical Storm Flossie southeast of Hawaii island.

Scientists said lightning on the outer edge of the storm weakened the energy building within the eye.

As volcanic emissions were folded into this moist environment, sulfate aerosols promoted the formation of a greater number of small cloud droplets.

"The wind started pulling the vog toward the storm's center when it was out in the ocean," Pattantyus said.

"Before it got to Hawaii, there was no lightning, but when vog got involved there was lots of lightning."

A research paper by lead author Pattantyus and co-author professor Steven Businger, titled "On the interaction of Tropical Cyclone Flossie and emissions from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano," was accepted this year for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

Pattantyus said more studies involving storms and volcanic gas and particles need to be conducted before any conclusions can be drawn.

But he said that if volcanic gases and particles do weaken storms, then similar gases and particles might be used to weaken storms headed to coastal cities.

The storms would dissipate themselves by having more rain and lightning in the ocean prior to arriving in major cities.

Businger has been forecasting and tracking the location of vog plumes since 2010 and determining the concentrations of sulfur dioxide and sulfate aerosol for island communities.

Last year, Businger and Pattantyus noticed a curious spiral pattern of vog being pulled into Flossie.

Pattantyus said that ships in the world's busiest harbors also emit sulfur dioxide, raising questions about whether their presence might increase lightning and rain generated during a storm.

Flossie weakened before hitting the Hawaiian Islands, bringing several inches of rainfall but no major damage and no fatalities.

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