Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
Research article
23 May 2014
Research article |  | 23 May 2014

The backscatter cloud probe – a compact low-profile autonomous optical spectrometer

K. Beswick, D. Baumgardner, M. Gallagher, A. Volz-Thomas, P. Nedelec, K.-Y. Wang, and S. Lance

Abstract. A compact (500 cm3), lightweight (500 g), near-field, single particle backscattering optical spectrometer is described that mounts flush with the skin of an aircraft and measures the concentration and optical equivalent diameter of particles from 5 to 75 μm. The backscatter cloud probe (BCP) was designed as a real-time qualitative cloud detector primarily for data quality control of trace gas instruments developed for the climate monitoring instrument packages that are being installed on commercial passenger aircraft as part of the European Union In-Service Aircraft for a Global Observing System (IAGOS) program ( Subsequent evaluations of the BCP measurements on a number of research aircraft, however, have revealed it capable of delivering quantitative particle data products including size distributions, liquid-water content and other information on cloud properties. We demonstrate the instrument's capability for delivering useful long-term climatological, as well as aviation performance information, across a wide range of environmental conditions.

The BCP has been evaluated by comparing its measurements with those from other cloud particle spectrometers on research aircraft and several BCPs are currently flying on commercial A340/A330 Airbus passenger airliners. The design and calibration of the BCP is described in this article, along with an evaluation of measurements made on the research and commercial aircraft. Preliminary results from more than 7000 h of airborne measurements by the BCP on two Airbus A340s operating on routine global traffic routes (one Lufthansa, the other China Airlines) show that more than 340 h of cloud data have been recorded at normal cruise altitudes (> 10 km) and more than 40% of the > 1200 flights were through clouds at some point between takeoff and landing. These data are a valuable contribution to databases of cloud properties, including sub-visible cirrus, in the upper troposphere and useful for validating satellite retrievals of cloud water and effective radius; in addition, providing a broader, geographically and climatologically relevant view of cloud microphysical variability that is useful for improving parameterizations of clouds in climate models. Moreover, they are also useful for monitoring the vertical climatology of clouds over airports, especially those over megacities where pollution emissions may be impacting local and regional climate.