MODIS wavelengths for volcanic cloud detection – a quick and dirty summary.
Many thanks to the authors of the listed references. Special thanks to A.T., BoM - Darwin VAAC.
Wavelength MODIS Band# Characteristics
405-420 nm 8 Ocean colour band, normally saturated for cloud, but can be unsaturated for cloud with high aerosol content (Tupper et al, 2003).  Close to SeaWIFS channel 1, used by Higurashi & Nakajima (2002) for sulphate/kosa/sea-salt discrimination near Miyakejima.
459-479 nm 3 Bands 1,4, & 3 are used in RGB ‘true colour’ images, easy to interpret for strong albedo features, but potentially misleading as diffuse ash can be invisible.  Best prepared on ‘HDF Look’, which has atmospheric corrections and is free!
545-565 nm 4
620-670 nm 1
1628-1652 nm 6 Near-infrared bands.  3.X bands have been used extensively in ash cloud detection (Ellrod & Connell, 1999, Ellrod et al, 2003) as well as hot spot detection, and are now available on most geostationary satellites. 1.6 µm channel (not functioning on Aqua/MODIS, but 2.1 µm is an acceptable substitute) corresponds to NOAA/AVHRR 3A, which has been used successfully to distinguish ash-poor Miyakejima plumes from water/ice clouds because of reflectivity of different particle size ( and Kinoshita et al, (2003)).  Ellrod et al (2003) used 4.5 µm band because of relative lack of reflectivity problems.
2105-2155 nm 7
3.660-3.840 µm 20
3.929-3.989 µm 21
3.939-3.989 µm 22
4.482-4.549 µm 25
6.535-6.895 µm 27 Part of SO2 test used by Crisp (1995).  Worth trying 27-28 or vice versa.
7.175-7.475 µm 28 Part of SO2 test used by Crisp (1995).  Used by Rose et al (2003).  Not so sensitive to volcanic ash as 8.6 µm, but more sensitive to water vapour and cloud height (Watson et al, 2003).
8.400-8.700 µm 29 Very useful for SO2 and sulphate aerosol detection, also sensitive to ash and water vapour (Realmuto et al, 1997). Used by Rose et al (2003).  Most effective night-time band for sensing Miyakejima plumes (Kinoshita et al, 2003). Trialed by Meteo-France (2001) with mixed results.
9.580-9.880 µm 30 Possibly sensitive to O3, SO4.  Meteo-France (2001) trialed for SO2 detection with mixed results.  Used in Rose et al (2003). Observed response for Miyakejima eruption of Aug 29, 2000 (Kinoshita et al, 2003).
10.780-11.280 µm 31 ‘Reverse absorption’ (Prata 1989) using 11-12 µm is most widely used and effective test for diffuse volcanic ash (Prata et al, 2001) and for estimating quantities (Wen & Rose, 1994).  Affected by water vapour, underlying cloud & various factors (Rose et al, 1995, Rose et al, 2000, Prata et al, 2001).
11.770-12.270 µm 32
14.085-14.385 µm 36 Part of SO2 test used by Crisp (1995)
* visible, * near infrared, * infrared


  1. Crisp, J., 1995: Volcanic SO2 Alert. EOS IDS Volcanology Team Data Product Document #3288, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Inst. Of Technology, 13 pp.

  2. Ellrod, G. P., and B.H. Connell, 1999: Improvements in volcanic ash detection using GOES multi-spectral image data. Preprints, 8th conf. On Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, 10-15 January 1999, Dallas, Texas, American Meteor. Soc., Boston, 326-329,

  3. Ellrod, G.P., B.H. Connell, and D.W. Hillger, 2003, Improved detection of airborne volcanic ash using multi-spectral infrared satellite data. J. Geophysical Research, in press

  4. Ellrod, G.P., & Im, J-S, 2003, “Development of Volcanic Ash Image Products using MODIS Multi-spectral data”, AMS conference paper,

  5. Higurashi, A., and T. Nakajima, 2002, Detection of aerosol types over the East China Sea near Japan from four-channel data. Geophysical Research Letters, 29, 171-174

  6. Kinoshita, K, C.Kanagaki, N.Iino, M.Koyamada, A.Terada, and A.Tupper, 2003. Volcanic plumes at Miyakejima observed from satellites and from the ground. Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 4891, Optical Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Clouds III, edited by Hung-Lung Huang,Daren Lu, Yasuhiro Sasano, (SPIE, Bellingham, WA, USA, 2003), 227-236,

  7. Meteo-France/CMS, 2001. Use of MODIS to enhance the PGE01-02 of SAFNWC/MSG. AF/NWC/MFL/SCI/PSD/2, Issue 1, Rev. 0

  8. Prata, A J. 1989 Observations of volcanic ash clouds in the10-12 um window using AVHRR/2 data. International Journal of Remote Sensing, v.10, 751-761.

  9. Prata, A J, Bluth, G.J.S., Rose, W.I., Schneider, D.J., and Tupper, A.C., 2001 Comments on "Failures in detecting volcanic ash from a satellite-based technique". Remote Sensing of the Environment, 78, pp 341-346.

  10. Realmuto, V. J., A. J. Sutton, and T. Elias, 1997, “Multispectral imaging of sulfur dioxide plumes from the East Rift Zone of K ilauea volcano, Hawaii”. J.Geophys. Res., 102, 15057-15072.

  11. Rose, W.I., D.J. Delene, D.J. Schneider, G.J.S Bluth, A.J. Krueger, I. Sprod, C. McKee, H.L. Davies, and G.G.J.Ernst, 1995, Ice in the 1994 Rabaul eruption cloud: implications for volcano hazard and atmospheric effects. Nature, 375, 477-479.

  12. Rose, W.I., Bluth, G.J.S., and Ernst, G.G.J., 2000 “Integrating retrievals of volcanic cloud characteristics from satellite remote sensors: a summary.” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 358, 1585-1606

  13. Rose, W.I. ,& eighteen co-authors, 2003, “The February-March 2000 eruption of Hekla, Iceland from a satellite perspective”, In press, AGU Special Publication Volcanism and Earth’s Atmosphere edited by A Robock and C Oppenheimer

  14. Schneider, D. J., W. I. Rose, F. Prata, Y. Gu, M. Watson, and W. Rose, 2001: Use of MODIS for volcanic eruption cloud detection, tracking, and measurement: Examples from the 2001 eruption of Cleveland volcano, Alaska. EOS. Trans. AGU, 82(47), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract, San Francisco, California.

  15. Tupper, A.C., J.P. Davey, and R.J. Potts, 2003, “Monitoring Volcanic Eruptions in Indonesia and the Southwest Pacific”. Proceedings of Symposium on Researching Eruption Clouds on Volcanic Island Chains, Kagoshima University, 9-10 November 2002, Kagoshima University Research Center for the Pacific Islands, Occasional Papers No. 37, 153-163, preprint at:

  16. Watson, I.M., W.I. Rose, G.J.S. Bluth, Y. Gu, M.A. Matiella, E.B. McCarthy, S.A. Carn, V.J. Realmuto, A. Prata “Recent Efforts in Satellite-based Observations of Volcanic Emissions”. Talk at 2nd MTU workshop on volcanic clouds, June 2003.

  17. Wen, S., & Rose, W.I., 1994, “Retrieval of sizes and total masses of particles in volcanic clouds using AVHRR bands 4 and 5”. J. Geophys. Res., 99, 5421-5431