A novel experimental chamber for the characterization of free-falling particles in volcanic plumes

Antonio Capponi*, Steve J. Lane, Jennie S. Gilbert, David G. Macfarlane, Duncan A. Robertson, Mike R. James

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Volcanic plumes pose a hazard to health and society and a particular risk for aviation. Hazard mitigation relies on forecasting plume dispersion within the atmosphere over time. The accuracy of forecasts depends on our understanding of particle dispersion and sedimentation processes, as well as on the accuracy of model input parameters, such as the initial particle size distribution and concentrations of volcanic particles (i.e., volcanic ash) in the atmosphere. However, our understating of these processes and the accurate quantification of input parameters remain the main sources of uncertainty in plume dispersion modeling. It is usually impractical to sample volcanic plumes directly, but particle sedimentation can be constrained in the laboratory. Here, we describe the design of a new experimental apparatus for investigating the dynamics of free-falling volcanic particles. The apparatus can produce a sustained column of falling particles with variable particle concentrations appropriate to a volcanic plume. Controllable experimental parameters include particle size distributions, types, and release rates. A laser-illuminated macrophotography system allows imaging of in-flight particles and their interactions. The mass of landing particles is logged to inform deposition rates. Quantitative measurements include particle morphology characterization, settling velocities, flow rates, and estimation of concentrations. Simultaneous observations of particle interaction processes and settling dynamics through direct control over a wide range of parameters will improve our parameterization of volcanic plume dynamics. Although the apparatus has been specifically designed for volcanological investigations, it can also be used to explore the characteristics of free-falling particle columns occurring in both environmental and industrial settings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number075105
Number of pages15
JournalReview of Scientific Instruments
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2022


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