Articles | Volume 8, issue 12
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 8, 5213–5222, 2015
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 8, 5213–5222, 2015

Research article 10 Dec 2015

Research article | 10 Dec 2015

Dual-wavelength light-scattering technique for selective detection of volcanic ash particles in the presence of water droplets

Z. Jurányi, H. Burtscher, M. Loepfe, M. Nenkov, and E. Weingartner Z. Jurányi et al.
  • Institute of Aerosol and Sensor Technology, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Windisch, Switzerland

Abstract. A new method is presented in this paper which analyses the scattered light of individual aerosol particles simultaneously at two different wavelengths in order to retrieve information on the particle type. We show that dust-like particles, such as volcanic ash, can be unambiguously discriminated from water droplets on a single-particle level. As a future application of this method, the detection of volcanic ash particles should be possible in a humid atmosphere in the presence of cloud droplets. The characteristic behaviour of pure water's refractive index can be used to separate water droplets and dust-like particles which are commonly found in the micrometre size range in the ambient air. The low real part of the water's refractive index around 2700–2800 nm results in low scattered light intensities compared to e.g. the visible wavelength range, and this feature can be used for the desired particle identification.

The two-wavelength measurement set-up was theoretically and experimentally tested and studied. Theoretical calculations were done using Mie theory. Comparing the ratio of the scattered light at the two wavelengths (visible-to-IR (infrared), R value) for water droplets and different dust types (basalt, andesite, African mineral dust, sand, volcanic ash, pumice) showed at least 9-times-higher values (on average 70 times) for water droplets than for the dust types at any diameter within the particle size range of 2–20 μm. The envisaged measurement set-up was built up into a laboratory prototype and was tested with different types of aerosols. We generated aerosols from the following powders, simulating dust-like particles: cement dust, ISO 12103-1 A1 Ultrafine Test Dust and ash from the 2012 eruption of the Etna volcano. Our measurements verified the theoretical considerations; the median experimental R value is 8–21 times higher for water than for the "dust" particles.

Short summary
Volcanic eruption can be a serious security risk for airplanes. We develop a new aerosol sensor for the reliable detection of volcanic ash on airplanes. We introduce here the laboratory prototype of this instrument, which is able to distinguish between water droplets and volcanic ash particles by measuring the scattered light at two distinct wavelengths simultaneously. The different optical behaviour of volcanic ash and water at these wavelengths makes this differentiation possible.