Skip to main content

The SACS early warning system of natural hazard

Research Topic Chapter
News flash intro
The Support to Aviation Control Service (SACS), hosted by BIRA-IASB, provides near real-time information on natural airborne hazards, such as volcanic ash and SO2, dust from sandstorms, or smoke from wildfires, to key users from the aviation sector. As a contribution to the EUNADICS-AV H2020 and OPAS Engage–KTN projects, the “UV-visible observations” research team has upgraded its early warning system with new observations and event detections.
Body text

Hazard satellite monitoring for airspace management

The aviation sector is growing rapidly worldwide and is becoming increasingly important for society. Airborne aerosols and reactive gases emitted from natural events such as volcanic eruptions, desert dust storms and strong wildfires, pose a direct threat to aviation safety.

The airspace management deals generally well with typical disruptions to the flight network, such as delays in flight connections. However, vulnerabilities always exist when dealing tactically with disturbances that are difficult to foresee strategically (especially those due to atmospheric behaviour). Thus, tactical decision-making processes could be enhanced through the development of multi-hazard monitoring and an Early Warning System (EWS) of natural airborne hazards.

BIRA-IASB’s “UV-visible observations” team pursues the implementation of the Support to Aviation Control Service – SACS which provides near real-time (NRT) and continuous global Earth observations from satellites and generates prompt alerts of natural hazards affecting the ATM (Air Traffic Management) flow.

Email notification and NRT observations from SACS to support ATM

Since the Icelandic eruption in 2010, decision-makers are taking active measures to protect the aviation sector as a whole against future volcanic ash crisis, but there is also growing interest in mitigating other natural hazards (volcanic gases like SO2, desert dust and fire plumes).

The use of satellite data is essential to detect and mitigate the risk of airborne hazards, as flying through hazardous clouds can have a strong impact on engines and on the health of passengers. The SACS multi-sensor system includes automatic worldwide detection of volcanic plumes (SO2 and ash), as illustrated by the SO2 notifications of Sabancaya eruption (Peru) in November 2020.

Recent developments of SACS

In the frame of the H2020 EUNADICS-AV project, BIRA-IASB has further developed SACS EWS by generating selective detections and alerts of volcanic plumes (ash and/or SO2), desert dust clouds and smoke plumes from forest fires.             

Recently, the SACS team was also involved in OPAS (Operational alert Products for Air traffic management via SWIM) project from Engage-KTN.

The System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) of EUROCONTROL is designed to provide access for the aviation stakeholders to dedicated services. OPAS SWIM service provides NRT information on the SO2 layer height from TROPOMI and IASI-A&-B sensors. Such observation is relevant for the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres.

It is also crucial information for pilots to avoid SO2 exposure as illustrated for the flight GL5T that encountered the volcanic plume of the massive eruption of Raikoke on the 24th June of 2019.


Further reading:

Figure 2 body text
Figure 2 caption (legend)
Example of SO2 notification from TROPOMI on 17 November 2020, due to the eruption of the Sabancaya volcano in Peru.
Figure 3 body text
Figure 3 caption (legend)
Illustration of the selective detections and alerts of airborne hazards from SACS/EUNADICS-AV EWS in July 2019. This highlights the SO2 cloud from Raikoke and Ubinas eruption, the ash plume from Ubinas, the desert dust from Sahara and Gobi deserts, and the smoke plumes from Russian and Canadian wildfires.
Figure 4 body text
Figure 4 caption (legend)
Illustration of essential information in TROPOMI SO2 height observations (Raikoke eruption). On 24 June 2019 at 18:00 UTC, the flight GL5T in direction to Anchorage, had no knowledge of the SO2 contamination of FL470 (flight level at 470 feet above the geopotential height). An SO2 exposure with concentration above 50 DU took place during more than one hour.
Publication date