Predicting the Movement of Pumice Rafts for Enhanced Navigational Warnings

Trajectory prediction for the 2006 Home Reef in the South Pacific Ocean for August-November 2006 using QuikSCAT/SeaWinds, Jason-2/Poseidon-3 and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) observations and imagery.

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia     

Michael Bender (Pennsylvania State University)
Joshua Kelly (University of Rhode Island)
Maureen Kelly (University of Maryland College Park)
Corey Walters (Saint Louis University)

Kenton Ross, Ph.D. (NASA, DEVELOP National Science Advisor)
Beth Brumbaugh (DEVELOP Langley Center Lead)
Lauren Makely (DEVELOP Langley Assistant Center Lead)


Pumice rafts are expansive masses of pumice clasts floating on the oceansurface produced by silicic shallow submarine and subaerial explosive volcanic eruptions. The goal of this project was to enhance knowledge of pumice rafts and develop accessible and practical methodologies for predicting the movement of pumice rafts in the South Pacific region. Two volcanoes in this region have recently erupted and formed pumice rafts: Home Reef volcano (Tonga) in 2006 and Havre Seamount (Kermadec Islands, New Zealand) in 2012. These raft events were used as examples to test the trajectory prediction model since they occurred during times at which high spatial and temporal resolution true color imagery were being collected and they have been frequently described in peer reviewed literature, both of which were crucial in providing validation for our models.

Project partners included Dr. Bradley Scott from GNS Science New Zealand and Dr. Greg Vaughan from the U.S. Geological Survey. They are particularly interested in learning how to predict the movement of pumice rafts for enhanced navigational advisement to maritime authorities. Remote sensing data acquired from NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites Aqua and Terra were used to image and track the pumice raft produced from the 2012 Havre Seamount eruption. Additional data acquired from NASA’s EOS satellites Jason-2 and QuikSCAT were used to predict the trajectory of the pumice raft using the General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME). GNOME is a modeling tool used to predict the possible trajectory a pollutant might follow on a body of water using wind and ocean current satellite data.

Learning more about the processes and transport mechanisms of pumice rafts is significant for a number of ecological and economic reasons. Pumice rafts pose a hazard to marine transportation as individual clasts can block seawater intake valves of large ships and cause hull damage to smaller vessels. Rafts can also be detrimental to fisheries, a large kill of deep-sea fish followed the arrival of pumice rafts during the 1984 Home Reef eruption. Additionally, rafts have the potential to introduce harmful invasive species to pristine areas as they drastically increase dispersal distances for otherwise benthic or relatively sedentary organisms. This novel and easily adaptable methodology can be used by island and coastal nations and fishery managers to forecast when and where a pumice raft will be, drastically enhancing maritime navigational warnings and response times to eventual pumice landfall.

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