Volcanic ash and more – aviation safety with new ceilometer technology

Volcanic ash and more – aviation safety with new ceilometer technology
Juuso Pokkinen
Application manager, Vaisala
Published: Oct 20, 2021
Aviation and Road Solutions

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma has the aviation and tourism industries again watching with bated breath. Will it cause as much travel disruption as the Icelandic eruption of 2010? 

Volcanic ash clouds are dangerous for aircraft

Though relatively rare, airborne volcanic ash is a major hazard in aviation – it can lower visibility, damage flight control systems, and even cause jet engines to fail. Air traffic controllers and pilots need to know about the movement of volcanic ash plumes in order to take preventative actions such as re-routing, where needed. (Source

More common atmospheric conditions such as supercooled cloud layers can lead to icing and endanger all types of aircraft – even commercial airlines. 

New lidar ceilometer with depolarization

Lidar ceilometer technology has improved to enable continuous monitoring of the atmosphere, accurately measuring the vertical profile of aerosols. 

Vaisala Lidar Ceilometer CL61 features depolarization measurement data that can be used for tracking volcanic ash plumes among others. This state-of-the-art ceilometer delivers high-quality profiling data that provides the insights needed to not only track particles such as volcanic ash, sand, and dust plumes, as well as understanding icing conditions – all of which are crucial for safe and efficient aviation operations.

Why ground truth matters

Forecasts and volcanic ash dispersion models can and should be verified and improved with actual observations from ground-based equipment. Today’s models rely heavily on satellite data, and adding  ground-based instrument data can help to validate safe flying routes and identify airports that are safe or unsafe to operate. CL61 is fully capable of supporting this application.

White paper and on-demand webinar

Our new white paper, Applications for Vaisala Lidar Ceilometer CL61 with depolarization, explains ceilometer technology and the device’s groundbreaking capabilities. 

For example, the improved signal-to-noise ratio helps detect high elevated aerosol layers that can be dangerous for aircraft. The linear depolarization ratio provides additional information for identifying volcanic ash and serves as a valuable validation data source for warning systems. 

We recently held a webinar to talk more in-depth about how ceilometer technology helps airports and airlines to operate with greater safety. Watch the webinar Go beyond the clouds with new ceilometer technology for aviation safety and efficiency.

For now, it looks like Cumbre Vieja’s impact on aviation will be limited but it’s a stark reminder that airports and airlines need more detailed atmospheric information than ever to ensure safety and minimize disruptions. 

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