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There are more than 1,500 potentially active volcanoes around the world, most of which are unmonitored, and roughly 500 are active at any given time. Although scientists keep an eye on many of these using traditional ground-based observation methods, satellites have become crucial in helping understand where, when, and why volcanoes erupt. 

The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) onboard NOAA’s GOES-R series of geostationary satellites, which keep watch over the same areas of Earth over time, utilize 16 bands and can monitor small eruptions in great detail.

Additionally, NOAA satellites not only monitor volcanic ash, but gases released in volcanic plumes—particularly toxic sulfur dioxide (SO₂)—which can be visualized through the satellite instrument’s infrared channels both during the day and at night. The polar-orbiting Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites, along with the GOES ABI sensor, enable more precise observations of SO₂ atop volcanic clouds.

NOAA also operates two Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) which are among nine centers worldwide, covering advisories for the U.S., Latin America, and the West Pacific.



Photo of Mt. St Helens
Forty years ago today, iconic Mount St. Helens erupted in southwestern Washington state in the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.
Mt. St. Helens
Suomi-NPP TrueColor satellite imagery of the Sheveluch volcano erupting on Nov. 12, 2019.
The Suomi-NPP satellite captured this image of the Sheveluch volcano erupting on Nov. 12, 2019, which affected flights over an area spanning from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands into the North Pacific, according to the NWS Oakland Center Weather Service Unit.
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Image of a typhoon
On Aug. 1, 2020, the Himawari-8 satellite, operated by our partners at the Japan Meteorological Agency, captured two powerful forces of nature happening at once—a developing tropical storm, Hagupit, and the eruption of the Nishinoshima Volcano.
View the Storm
Zoom of Mt. Etna spewing ash with the Ash product, Meteosat-11 imagery.
The pastel imagery above is an Ash RGB product captured by Europe’s Meteosat-11 satellite on Feb. 21 and Feb 23, 2021. Based upon infrared channel data, the product is designed to detect ash and sulphur dioxide from volcanic eruptions, which later can be used to warn aviation and other municipal authorities.
Mt. Etna's Eruption

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