Research aircraft continue to sample volcanic plume
20 April 2010
Scientists are still working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Met Office to monitor the ash plume from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano using NERC's research aircraft.
NERC's Airborne Research & Survey Facility Dornier 228 research aircraft took off from Cranfield airfield at 14:00 UK time on Sunday 18 April 2010. After take off, the Dornier flew south via London, Southampton and Cardiff, and then north to Prestwick before returning to Cranfield.
To sample different layers of the plume, the aircraft flew a climbing and descending pattern at heights between 6,000 feet and 20,000 feet between Cranfield, London, Southampton and and Cardiff. During the Cardiff to Prestwick leg of the mission, it climbed and descended between 1,500 and 20,000 feet.
The Dornier 228 - based at Gloucester airport - is fitted with sophisticated instruments that can measure volcanic residues like sulphur dioxide and ash particles of different sizes.
A second flight using the same aircraft took off from Cranfield at 11:30 UK time on Monday 19 April 2010. During this flight, the aircraft flew to Gloucester up to an altitude of 2,000 feet. It then turned north and flew at varying altitudes up to 20,000 feet towards Prestwick along the west coast, and across the Midland Valley before turning to fly down the east coast and across the Wash back to Cranfield.
Results from both flights revealed the presence of sulphur dioxide and a number of layers of volcanic ash of varying sizes between ground level and 20,000 feet. These discreet layers of fine material are particularly difficult to spot with the naked eye.
At the same time, the Cranfield-based Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements has worked around the clock to bring another research aircraft out of refit specifically to help sample the plume. This is a modified BAe 146 large atmospheric research aircraft and can reach higher altitudes than the Dornier. It is jointly funded by NERC and the Met Office, owned by BAE Systems and operated by Directflight at Cranfield University.
The BAe 146 is fitted with a LIDAR instrument that will help scientists map the ash plume from above. By flying the Dornier below the plume and the BAe 146 above it, the research team hope to map its full extent and confirm the nature of the ash cloud.
Data obtained during these flights is being analysed by the Met Office and the Civil Aviation Authority to help inform the aviation industry.
More coordinated flights by the BAe 146 and the Dornier are planned for Wednesday 21 April and beyond, depending on the developing situation.
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
Press release: 18/10
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