Universal Cloud and Aerosol Sonde System (UCASS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Department Name: Science and Technology RI


Meteorology and atmospheric research make wide use of systems called "radiosondes", which supply essential, routine measurements for weather prediction on the one hand, and for wider atmospheric research on the other hand. However, radiosondes and their aircraft-launched equivalents called "dropsondes" are limited to providing three or four basic measurements, including temperature, pressure, humidity and sometimes ozone concentration. Missing through lack of technical capability is any information on atmospheric particulates, such as aerosol or cloud particles.
This project aims to develop, test and commercialize a modular, low-cost, atmospheric sonde for the characterization of cloud and aerosol particles, including volcanic ash. The module will be compatible with several widely used commercial sounding systems giving standard meteorological quantities, but will be complementary to them, as it will provide variables not yet routinely measurable. Initially, we will focus on the most basic property, that is particle size, but this can be extended in the future to particle shape. The sonde system will be deployable using meteorological balloons, manned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles. Therefore, it will allow accessing environments where direct measurements are not currently possible. Applications extend from weather prediction, through air quality monitoring, to civil contingencies, such as volcanic eruptions, as well as numerous uses in atmospheric research, including climate change, extreme weather events or the validation of satellite remote-sensing measurements.

Planned Impact

The direct benefit of the project will be the availability of low-cost devices for measuring the size of atmospheric particles in clouds or aerosol layers. The devices will allow measurements of variables not hitherto available in many contexts, including some environments where measurements were difficult, expensive or not previously possible (e.g. some types of cloud, volcanic ash layers, planetary boundary layer). Adding other variables, such as particle shape or gas concentration is anticipated in the future.

Direct beneficiaries will include:

* National meteorological agencies (e.g. Met Office in the UK, Deutscher Wetterdienst in Germany, NOAA in the US), as access to hitherto unavailable properties will allow improving weather and climate forecasting both short term through cloud and aerosol data assimilation into models, and long term through superior models.

* National and international space agencies (e.g. ESA, DLR, CNES, NASA), as sonde-based measurements will permit validation of remote sensing retrievals of atmospheric properties from satellites.

* Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAACs), because ash soundings will allow initializing, constraining and verifying dispersion models.

* Civil and military aviation, as well as economy in general, in the event of future volcanic eruptions, because more accurate ash dispersion prediction will minimize unnecessary airspace closures.

* Agencies concerned with monitoring and maintaining air quality (Defra in the UK), as aerosol measurement (and other pollutant in the future) will be possible at greater spatial resolution and will not be confined to the ground level.

* Research aircraft operators (e.g. UK FAAM, EU EUFAR, DLR in Germany, SAFIRE in France, NASA, NOAA and NCAR in the US), specifically because the use of dropsondes will improve the efficiency (and spacial coverage) of aircraft-based measurements.

The final product will also benefit researchers in many fields of atmospheric science, including: weather prediction, cloud physics, aerosol physics and chemistry, atmospheric dispersion modelling, climate change, air quality and pollution, extreme weather events, satellite remote sensing validation, lidar measurement validation, and others. Indeed, following the development of the earlier low-cost DREAME aerosol counter in 2009, University of Hertfordshire received numerous enquiries and requests for units for research purposes. These requests could not be met because of lack of volume production capability.

Therefore, long-term, indirect impacts will be significant, some on the society as a whole (e.g. due to improved weather or volcanic ash cloud forecasting), some on specific areas like aviation, tourism, insurance, defence and national security, or public health.

Contacts have already been established with many stakeholders, including several divisions of the Met Office in the UK, Deutscher Wetterdienst in Germany, Met Eireann (Irish Meteorological Service), UK Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement (FAAM), European Facility For Airborne Research (EUFAR), UK Civil Aviation Authority, Irish Aviation Authority, and others. Bilateral exchange of information will exist, to define optimum operational parameters for the sonde system on the one hand, and to disseminate the outcomes from the project on the other hand.

It is also anticipated that the project will benefit the manufacturing economy in the UK and the EU through the introduction of an entirely new product that is likely to be competitive on the world market, and should also open up new applications for existing atmospheric sounding systems.
Description We have developed the first-ever dropsonde capable of measuring the size distribution of atmospheric aerosol or cloud particles when released from aircraft. The sonde will also be capable of being launched on a meteorological balloon.
Exploitation Route We expect that the sondes will be used by atmospheric scientists, meteorological services and aviation advisory services worldwide. To further this goal, we are currently working on licensing this technology to a manufacturer.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment

Description The sondes developed during the project have not yet been used widely, as they are not mass-produced yet, but we anticipate that they will be in the very near future. They will allow more detailed, accurate and widespread observations of the properties of atmospheric aerosols and clouds. As such, they will permit, among others: improvements in weather forecasting, climate modelling, air quality monitoring, civil emergency mitigation (e.g. volcanic ash detection and dispersion prediction). A system that allowing the use of these sondes has been installed on two research aircraft in the UK and Germany and is in the process of being certified for airworthiness.
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Strategic Environmental Science Capital Call
Amount £380,670 (GBP)
Funding ID CC030 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
Description Ash sondes 
Organisation Meteorological Office UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided the Met Office with radiosondes for detecting volcanic ash in the atmosphere.
Collaborator Contribution The Met Office paid for constructing the radiosondes and collaborated in testing them.
Impact The sondes were used to verify ash dispersion model results during Icelandic volcano eruptions.
Start Year 2010
Title UCASS receiver on FAAM aircraft 
Description A radio receiver capable of simultaneous reception of telemetry data from up to 22 dropsondes has been developed, manufactured, installed and airworthiness-certified on the FAAM research aircraft. 
Type Of Technology Systems, Materials & Instrumental Engineering 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The receiver permits profiling of the atmosphere using novel cloud and aerosol dropsondes, and high density measurements of meteorological variables using KITsonde dropsondes.