University of Pittsburgh
May 29, 2001


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PITTSBURGH, May 30 --The first images generated by NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) show that the instrument is an "ideal tool for remote volcanic monitoring," according to University of Pittsburgh researcher Michael Ramsey.

Ramsey, director of Pitt's Image Visualization and Infrared Spectroscopy (IVIS) laboratory and an associate professor of geology and planetary science at the University, is part of a team that presented the first results from at the Spring, 2000, American Geophysical Union Meeting, on May 29, in Boston.

ASTER is an imaging instrument aboard Terra, a satellite launched in December 1999 as part of NASA's Earth Observing System. ASTER combines three imaging technologies—visible/near infrared, short-wave infrared, and thermal infrared—to obtain detailed maps of land surface temperature, emissivity, reflectance, and elevation.

Using ASTER images, Ramsey studied volcanic activity in the Soufrière Hills Volcano, on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat, and the Bezymianny Volcano, on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, during the past nine months. Ramsey worked with Andrew J.L. Harris and Dawn Pirie of the University of Hawaii in studying the data pertaining to the Soufrière Hills Volcano, and with Jonathan Dehn, of the Geophysical Institute/Alaska Volcano Observatory at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in studying the Bezymianny Volcano.

"The high spatial and spectral resolution of ASTER, coupled with the excellent radiometric accuracy, makes ASTER an ideal tool for detecting temperature changes and volcanic monitoring," Ramsey reported.

ASTER takes "snapshots" of the Earth only once about every five days, so it will not be able to replace the other satellite systems volcanologists use for remote sensing.

"Because ASTER doesn't have fast repeat times, we aren't in a position to watch eruptions begin and progress," said Ramsey. "But with the other abilities of ASTER, we can observe changes on the week time scale. This is very important after the initial eruption and the formation of a lava dome. These act like corks in many ways and subtle changes in their temperature, composition, or texture reveal information about potential upcoming eruptions."

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