Transient volcanic plumes are time-dependent features generated by unsteady eruptive sources, having similar eruption duration and plume development timescales. Their morphological evolution reflects both the discharge history at the vent and air entrainment, crucial parameters controlling volcanic ash dispersal and impact on the environment and human activities. However, despite its importance, transient plume morphology has been scarcely quantified, due to both observational and analytical hindrances. In this study, we introduce new tools to quantify the initial morphological evolution of transient volcanic plumes by applying fractal analysis and plume's perimeter measurements to thermal high-speed and visible-light high-resolution videos of eruptions. Eruptive plumes from Sakurajima (Japan), Stromboli (Italy), and Fuego (Guatemala) volcanoes were recorded during several field campaigns in 2012–2016. The eruption dataset has been complemented by the fractal analysis of three 2D numerical gas-jet simulations at different Reynolds number (2 × 10 3 , 5 × 10 3 and 10 × 10 3 ) in order to provide reference configurations to compare with the natural cases. The two shape analysis methods used show different sensitivities. The ratio between plume and bounding box perimeters appears to be more perceptive of punctual dynamical variations, while fractal analysis reflects the overall plume evolution. Both methods highlight that plume shape complexity increases over time and is related to the formation and development of smaller scale vortexes. The variability of the rate of fractal dimension increase over time (α D ) effectively captures plume evolution. It also appears that α D correlates with the ash eruption rate (AER) evolution and the instability of the source. This study shows that discharge history and intensity at the vent are the first order control on plume's shape evolution and, by inference, on its air entrainment ability.
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