French scientists have developed technology which enable them to monitor the movements of volcanic ash from within the clouds themselves, using balloons.
A statement from the French embassy announces that on-board aerosol counters on weather balloons are now capable of monitoring the movement of clouds of volcanic ash and, more generally, studying the quality and quantity of aerosols in the atmosphere and upper atmosphere.
The idea of mounting equipment to measure the aerosols present in the atmosphere on balloons is not new. Attempts have been made to study particulates, liquids and solids in suspension in the atmosphere between ground level and an altitude of 60 km since the 1960s. Baptiste Renard, from the Centre for Physics and Chemistry for Space and the Environment, is quoted as saying, “Until now there have been no instruments that perform as well and are as light and easy to handle as the one we have developed for use on board weather balloons.”
Four experiments were conducted in Iceland and northern Sweden last summer, with conclusive results. The next step for the device which takes the measurements – the Light Optical Aerosol Counter (LOAC) – to become the preferred tool for meteorologists is to reduce the weight of the LOAC aerosol counter by another few grams and test it on board tropospheric balloons, which can remain in the atmosphere for several days.