2014 IEEE Scientific Visualization Contest

For the 2014 IEEE Scientific Visualization Contest we challenge the VIS community to help atmospheric scientists understand the aftermath of volcanic eruptions. Contestants will be asked to fuse raw data from different sources including satellite imagery and point measurements as well as simulated trajectory data into a comprehensive visualization of the temporal evolution of eruption plumes.


The 2014 IEEE Scientific Visualization Contest will be an official part of IEEE VIS 2014 held in Paris, France. Each year, the VisContest presents researchers from the vis community an opportunity to transfer the latest developments in visual data analysis to a challenging application scenario.

This year, the contest targets data from atmospheric research that captures volcanic eruptions and their atmospheric aftermath. We challenge participants to create a comprehensive visualization of the provided data that enables domain experts to gain a deeper understanding of the volcanic eruption events and helps them better understand the consequences for atmosphere and climate.

The data are provided by the Simulation Laboratory Climate Science at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre and the Intitute of Energy and Climate Reserach, both at Research Center Jülich, Germany within the JARA - High Performance Computing collaboration.


Volcanic eruptions can inject significant amounts of ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. While volcanic ash particles pose a severe danger to aircraft, the sulfur dioxide forms sulfate aerosol that has impact on the Earth's radiation budget and hence the climate. Sulfate aerosol at high altitudes causes a cooling of the troposphere, as for example was observed after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, and hence is discussed for geo-engineering. When thinking about geo-engineering with sulfate aerosol, one also has to consider the monitoring options. However, global aerosol monitoring is challenging.

A recent volcanic eruption of the Icelandic Eyjafjalla volcano strikingly revealed the lack of monitoring facilities. The directives for aircraft groundings by the ash advisory centers were solely based on simulations. The integration of measurement data into the simulations would greatly improve the accuracy and reliability of these simulations.

Infrared satellite measurements are well suited to aerosol monitoring due to global coverage and the ability for both daytime and nighttime measurements. Thus far, however, a single instrument cannot provide highly resolved data in both horizontal and vertical direction. Here, "horizontal" refers to the tangential directions, i.e. along the earth's surface, whereas "vertical" means the radial direction, i.e. a detection's altitude. Therefore, it is advantageous to combine data of multiple different instruments, such as the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS), which provides high vertical resolution, and the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), which in contrast provides very good horizontal resolution. The combination of these data sets with atmospheric simulations of the Chemical Lagrangian Model of the Stratosphere (CLaMS) to fill the spatial and temporal gaps between the individual measurements would allow researchers to gain new insights into the dispersion and transport pathways of volcanic aerosol. However, an integrated 3D/4D visualization that yields a comprehensive view of all three data sets has yet to be developed. Therefore, the central goal of this contest would be to create a visualization that integrates the advantages of the MIPAS and AIRS measurements with the CLaMS atmospheric simulations in order to provide researchers a holistic view of their data.

A particularly interesting period for the analysis of the two different volcanic aerosol types is mid of May to end of July 2011; within three weeks three volcanos erupted.

Grímsvötn eruption

The series started on May 21, 2011 with the eruption of the Grímsvötn volcano. It is located at 64.42°N, 17.33°W in Iceland. This eruption emitted significant amounts of sulfur dioxide as well as ash particles into the Artic atmosphere. Particles were subsequently traced for several weeks after the eruption.

Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption

On June 4, 2011 the Chilean Puyehue-Cordón Caulle Compex started injecting several million tons of ash into the southern hemisphere mid-latitudes. The volcano complex is located in the Andean mountains at 40.59°S and 72.117°W. The eruption reached the lower stratosphere, and ash was transported by the jet stream around the globe. Several hundred flights in South America, Australia, and New Zealand had to be canceled. Ash particles were traced for up to two months.

Nabro eruption

The Nabro is located in Eritrea at 13.37°N 41.7°E. The initial explosive eruption occurred on June 12, 2011, with high altitude eruptions continuing until June 20. This eruption in the tropics is most notably known for the large amounts of sulfur dioxide that entered the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. Because of the long lifetime of the sulfate aerosol in the stratosphere, tracing of particles was possible for more than 7 months.