Volcano web cameras make great weather cameras

Published: Mon Sep 18 2017 12:00 PM

GeoNet web cameras capture many images of our volcanoes and the clouds that form around them - some even look like eruptions.

Web cameras are an important part of volcano monitoring, along with seismic, ground deformation, gas and water chemistry. GeoNet operates several cameras and we use two cameras at each site. One is a standard daylight camera and the other is a special ‘low light’ camera that gives us improved night-time views. We have been fortunate to record many aspects of activity at our active volcanoes with these cameras over the years. However, this story is about some of the great weather images that the cameras have recently captured. Because we collect images every 10 minutes we often collect some great cloud shots. In some cases, we see frontal weather systems moving in. The clouds are usually nothing special in terms of meteorological features, but the camera does collect great sequences.

Frontal clouds developing across Tongariro National Park

Frontal clouds developing across Tongariro National Park

The cameras can also catch false positives of eruptive activity. Last Friday evening we had this occur at Mt Ruapehu when a lenticular cloud developed over the volcano. Lenticular clouds forming over the volcanoes or mountains are not a new phenomenon. They develop as stationary lens-shaped clouds above the mountain, usually forming in the troposphere (7-15 km high), perpendicular to the wind direction. Because of their shape, they have even been offered as an explanation for some unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings. However, on Friday evening what we saw as the afternoon cloud burnt off around 5.40pm was the start of a lenticular cloud. The cloud seen at Ruapehu started off disconnected from the volcano and over 20 minutes, as the cloud developed, it eventually connected to the volcano. This gave the appearance of an eruption at Mt Ruapehu around 6pm. Our other monitoring equipment confirmed the volcano was not erupting.

Cloud forming over Ruapehu on Friday evening - the volcano was not erupting

Cloud forming over Ruapehu on Friday evening - the volcano was not erupting