Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Watching the skies

  • Written by  Tom Hart
  • Published in Tectonics
Watching the skies Reuters
22 Dec
2014
Met Office innovations lead the way in collecting data from ash clouds caused by volcanic eruptions

In 2010, ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano disrupted flights across Europe and cost the airline industry around £1billion in lost revenue. Since then, governments have invested heavily to understand how volcanic ash plumes develop. With volcanic activity at Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano increasing, and local flights across Alaska cancelled in June last year due to eruptions from the Pavlof volcano, the need to understand ash plumes is more important than ever.

‘A big problem is knowing how much volcanic ash is coming out of an eruption. There’s considerable uncertainty in this area,’ says Professor Jim Haywood, a Met Office scientist. ‘There are a number of initiatives to validate the Met Office modelling of volcanic ash.’

One such initiative comes from the Civil Aviation Authority, which has established ground-based lidar (or ‘light radar’) sites across the UK. Lidar uses a laser to illuminate a target, and then analyses the reflected light. ‘Essentially, lidar can give you the altitude for volcanic ash,’ says Haywood. Lidar data are supported with information from sun-photometers, which detect ash concentration.

Another approach comes from ZEUS, a prototype device that measures atmospheric ash using static electricity. Created through a collaboration between the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council, ZEUS has already been mounted to a British Airways 747 and has undergone successful flights to South Africa. It will now be flown on long-haul flights around the world for a year collecting data. ‘ZEUS has the potential to provide a clearer picture of ash distribution and could be used to inform decision making-processes in the event of future eruptions,’ says Captain Dean Plumb from British Airways.

The Met Office also uses its own small plane – the Met Office Civil Contingency Aircraft (MOCCA) – to gather information on ash clouds. This two-man, one-scientist Cessna 421 can be scrambled during eruptions to sample an ash plume as it develops. MOCCA flies above the ash layer to gather information using lidar and measures particles collected through wing-mounted instruments. The findings are returned to the London Volcanic Advisory Centre, a Met Office centre tasked with monitoring eruptions in Iceland and the northwest Atlantic.

This story was published in the January 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

The prestigious photography awards to go on display in some…

Tectonics

The discovery of a slow-motion earthquake near Istanbul, which took…

Oceans

The 2014 to 2016 marine heatwave, which took place off…

Climate

Marco Magrini discovers that hydrogen is back, but hopefully not…

Wildlife

 A ten-year analysis of chimpanzees has revealed that the presence…

Wildlife

The return of the pine marten to UK forests has…

Energy

A project in Orkney is converting excess wind energy into…

Geophoto

Mountains provide a dramatic sight at the best of times,…

Wildlife

A surge in reports of dead hares has resulted in…

Oceans

Four scientists have banded together to make the case against the farming of octopuses, arguing…

Climate

As planetary oil consumption hits the 100-million-barrel mark Marco Magrini…

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…