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

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

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...

Oceans

Far beneath the waves, a race is unfolding to claim…

Climate

Compared to other types of carbon sink, seagrass in Kenya…

Geophoto

Who in their right mind wants to shoot with film…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Geophoto

Calling photographers passionate about capturing and sharing great images of…

Climate

Five experts weigh-in on the future of the Paris Agreement…

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

For the past ten years, the Chartered Institution of Water…

Geophoto

Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, so it…

Oceans

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award…

Wildlife

John Kahekwa is the founder and general manager of the…

Polar

Recent observations of Arctic flora and fauna indicate major changes…

Oceans

A massive die-off of Australian mangrove forests is being attributed…

Energy

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Wildlife

The continuing adventures of Aaron Gekoski as he joins the…

Geophoto

What do Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’, the incipient HS2 high-speed rail…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues working alongside the Wildlife Rescue Unit

Geophoto

Today, the camera is regarded as an essential smartphone feature.…

Oceans

An innovative new theory hopes to save millions of lives…