Volcanic balloon-borne laboratory

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology

Abstract

Since the eighteenth century, weather balloons have been used as a carrier platform to make observations of the weather in our atmosphere. Fundamental discoveries about the structure of the atmosphere were made by early investigators. Atmospheric processes such as the electrification in thunderstorms and the thickness of the ozone layer have been observed using balloon-borne instrumentation. On a daily basis, hundreds of weather balloons are launched by meteorological organizations across the world to observe the state of the atmosphere, providing the initial conditions for weather forecasts. Weather balloons are also used during field campaigns as an essential tool for studying the atmosphere.

A modern weather balloon system consists of a balloon supporting a radiosonde. The radiosonde is a small device which contains a radio transmitter, weather sensors, GPS and batteries. Its radio link relays weather data to a ground station, making the device disposable. Radiosondes are rarely used for anything more than standard weather measurements. Other than a small percentage used to routinely measure the thickness of the ozone layer, weather balloon are an under-exploited measurement platform in the scientific community. Weather balloons that have the potential to carry ozone sensors have an interface to send additional information via the radiosonde for relay to the ground station. For little extra cost it is possible to add other sensors to this interface.

In the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, a simplified data connection system has been developed allowing multiple sensors to be interfaced and powered with the radiosonde. The additional data is relayed over the existing radio link, hence no additional receiving hardware is required. Software installed at the ground station combines the standard weather data with the additional sensor data. Small disposable sensors have been developed to measure turbulence, solar radiation, optical properties of clouds, and high-energy particle concentration. The automated disposable nature of the radiosonde allows additional measurements to be made with minimal cost when compared to that of a research aircraft.

During hazardous conditions for aircraft, weather balloons provide a low-risk method to obtain measurements, which was demonstrated by the proposers during the 2010 and 2011 Icelandic volcano eruptions. This project proposes to develop a multi-sensor miniature laboratory to sample hazardous volcanic plumes. The package of five bespoke sensors will measure ash, SO2, ice, electrification, and turbulent mixing. The sensor package will be carried by weather balloons and aims to improve the quality of decision-making and the predictive skill of forecast models, when a volcanic ash cloud next threatens international airspace.

Planned Impact

We will engage with stakeholders through the following activities, as discussed more fully in the Pathways to Impact.

1. We propose to organise a stakeholder meeting towards the end of the project, to disseminate our results to organisations including the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and National Air Traffic Services (NATS). Senior representatives from the above beneficiaries will be invited. Specifically, we propose a joint meeting between the Royal Meteorological Society(RMetS) and the Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) of the Geological Society of London (GSL).

2. To ensure that our project is visible to the widest possible audience, the PDRA will set up and maintain a public website containing information and results, emphasising the ready availability of the technology to radiosonde users (and therefore further meteorological agencies internationally).

3. The PDRA will attend the EGU conference in Vienna to present the sensor developments to the wider scientific community. In addition, the PDRA and PI will attend the Meteorology Technology (Met Tech) international trade show in Brussels to advertise the University of Reading science sensors via oral and poster presentations.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The Volclab project has successfully generated a suite of new balloon-carried instruments for use in situations of releases of hazardous material into the atmosphere. This multiple sensor package has been engineered for mass production, and works through piggy-back operation on standard meteorological radiosondes. It has been developed for minimal user involvement, based on a "plug and play" approach. This extends the standard radiosonde measurements through making effective use of the experienced radiosonde staff available at remote sites. The equipment has also been tested at a volcano. The capability of the Volclab package has been described in an invited presentation at the high profile MetTech Trade Show, and through wide engagement in and across the volcanology community, and with the Met Office and instrument manufacturers. VOLCLAB opens up a wide range of new measurement opportunities for investigating the spread of volcanic ash, but as the package is adaptable, it can also be deployed for other hazardous situations involving radioactivity or space weather. The cloud detector has general applications for identifying the presence of thin clouds without the time response issues associated with traditional thermodynamic radiosonde sensors, and the oscillating microbalance can also be used to measure ice accretion from supercooled liquid water clouds. In addition, the extent of cloud electrification before a lightning strike can also be detected, together with the in situ measurement of turbulence. All these quantities can now be obtained in a value-added way by using VOLCLAB to extend the capabilities of existing radiosonde systems, without loss to the standard operational quantities for which the systems are funded and conventionally used.
Exploitation Route The instrumentation developed has been described in the international scientific literature, to the volcanology and airline communities, and to meteorological instrument manufacturers. Research proposals are already intending to use the equipment. The demand for this equipment is, however, more likely to be met commercially through effective linkage between manufacturers and meteorological agencies, rather than by a solely University activity.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/235ac328#/235ac328/56
 
Description Evening science talk - Jenner Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This an evening talk about past volcanic eruptions and their influence on climate, in which the needs for new methods for in situ measurements addressed by the Volclab project were mentioned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://jennermuseum.com/2016/09/09/1816-the-year-without-a-summer/
 
Description Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a presentation on volcanology and how measurements and understanding of volcanoes are useful to society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) General Assembly, Portland OR, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation at a volcanology meeting (so beyond our conventional reach).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description International Conference on Advances in Extreme Value Analysis and Application to Natural Hazards (EVAN) Southampton, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster presentation at scientific meeting: VolcLab: A balloon-borne instrument package to measure ash, gas, electrical, and turbulence properties of volcanic plumes
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meteorological Technology World Expo Forum 2017, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was an invited talk on the technology developed at an International Trade Show
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New technologies for in situ volcanic plume monitoring 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A workshop was held in Oxford to bring this technology to the volcanology community, but it also included representatives from the Met Office, instrument manufacturers, and radiosonde manufacturers from Finland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Study day on volcanoes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a one day workshop on the impacts of volcanoes on climate, in which the needs for measurements in volcanic plumes, and the VOLCLAB project, was mentioned explicitly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.ianritchie.org/the-year-without-a-summer