Using LIDAR technology, scientists direct a laser beam towards the sky, like a saber in Star Wars. The signal reflected back from particles provides information on their physical and chemical properties. A maximum aerosol value of 77 micrograms/m3 was estimated, which as a concentration is below the risk value established for air navigation (2 miligrams/m3).
Furthermore, the levels of particles rich in sulphates shot up even though they were fine particles (with a minimum diameter of 1 micra). This meant that they were much smaller than those particles over 20 micra found in countries in Central Europe.
These thicker particles are generally considered to be 'ash' and can really damage aircraft motors. The fine matter, like that detected over the Iberian Peninsula, is similar to that commonly found in urban and industrial areas. It is subject to study more for its damaging health effects rather than its impact on air navigation.
NASA's network of sun photometers
It is important to track the evolution of all the particles in order to provide information to managers responsible for this kind of crisis. Working in this field were members of NASA's AERONET (AErosol RObotic NETwork) network, which is made up by the different tracking stations in Spain and Portugal (integrated into RIMA) equipped with automatic sun photometers. These instruments focus towards the sun and collect data each hour on the aerosol optical thickness and their distribution by size in the atmospheric column.
The combined use of sun photometers and LIDAR technology boosts data collection. For example, the station in Granada and vora revealed that the volcanic ash cloud circulated between 3 km and 6 km above the ground.
"Instruments like LIDAR are more powerful on an analytical level but their spatial and weather coverage is low. This means that sun photometers come in very useful in identifying
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology