Detecting Wildfire Smoke Thanks to Ceilometers

The year 2020 has gone down in history. Not only because it was the first year of COVID-19 but also because of the devastating wildfires. Their consequences were far-reaching, with ceilometers from various countries indicating that harmful plume particles were transported over thousands of miles.

Detecting Wildfire Smoke Thanks to Ceilometers

Image Credit: Unsplash

Burning forests and bushes have left swaths of destruction in Siberia and Australia, but more recently, also along the West Coast of the United States and Brazil. Arial photos taken using satellites depict the large-scale fires and smoke over Washington, California and Oregon.

However, it is not just the destruction that concerns scientists. The fires result in an enormous release of carbon and other harmful particles into the atmosphere, many of which are too small to see. Being this small and light means they are easily transported around the globe.

Lidar Experts Confirm Atmospheric Simulations Based on Satellite Photos

By mid-September 2020, the smoke reached the European continent. This was predicted by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and based on satellite images and simulations.

Now, scientists across numerous countries have proved CAMS’ forecasts were accurate by detecting smoke originating from the West Coast of the U.S.

Many of the scientists use lidar instruments, such as the Lufft CHM 15k & CHM 8k. As does Aaron Kennedy, University of North Dakota, who detected smoke particles moving eastwards across North America before they had reached the Atlantic Ocean.

Kennedy conducted his research in the University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, utilizing a CHM 15k as a part of his versatile equipment.

Wildfire smoke impacts air quality hundreds and even thousands of miles away. These two pictures were taken at the University of North Dakota on September 14 (smoke) and 18 (clear sky).

Wildfire smoke impacts air quality hundreds and even thousands of miles away. These two pictures were taken at the University of North Dakota on September 14 (smoke) and 18 (clear sky). Photos: Aaron Kennedy, UND

Wildfire smoke impacts air quality hundreds and even thousands of miles away. These two pictures were taken at the University of North Dakota on September 14 (smoke) and 18 (clear sky).

Wildfire smoke impacts air quality hundreds and even thousands of miles away. These two pictures were taken at the University of North Dakota on September 14 (smoke) and 18 (clear sky). Photos: Aaron Kennedy, UND 

This summer is the first chance we’ve had to collect ceilometer observations of the smoke. During the events, we shared data with our local National Weather Service office. This gave them an idea of how thick and how high the smoke was.

Aaron Kennedy, University of North Dakota 

Wildfires have Various Impacts on the Weather and Air Quality

The primary use of ceilometers is, conventionally, to measure the cloud base height. This is especially applicable for airports and meteorologists. Beyond that application, ceilometers are also capable of detecting small particles flowing in the air – known as aerosols.

As a result, ceilometers are an important instrument for studies on air quality and atmospheric pollution.

Wildfires are an ordinary phenomenon that occurs on an annual basis. However, in 2020, numerous wildfires were raging on larger spatial and temporal scales than usual.

Severe wildfires have numerous impacts on the atmosphere and environment.

First, wildfire smoke scatters energy from the sun and has a cooling impact during the day. Most weather models don’t include smoke, so if a forecaster is unaware, they can go wrong. While the wildfire smoke plumes are usually elevated, sometimes they can mix down to the surface. In this case, it hurts air quality. Finally, they change the visual properties of the atmosphere, which results in intense sunsets and the absence of blue sky.

Aaron Kennedy, University of North Dakota

Lidars are Indeed Versatile Instruments

Meanwhile, the smoke crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Kennedy’s colleagues on the East Coast and in Europe detected smoke plumes using lidar instruments.

On 11th September, Hugo Ricketts from the Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Manchester reportedly observed: “some smoky looking aerosol last night in selected cloud gaps.”

German and Croatian meteorologists followed a few days later by contributing pictures of their ceilometer observations recorded using the Lufft CHM 15k.

Scientists all over Europe detected smoke that originated from the U.S. wildfires using the Lufft ceilometer devices, CHM 15k and CHM 8k.

Smoke detected in Capel Dewi/Wales on September 10. The signal below the clouds is caused by smoke.

Smoke detected in Capel Dewi/Wales on September 10. The signal below the clouds is caused by smoke. Image Credit: Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Manchester

Smoke detected by the Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service (DHMZ) on September 12

Smoke detected by the Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service (DHMZ) on September 12. Image Credit: DHMZ

Smoke detected at the University of North Dakota on September 14.

Smoke detected at the University of North Dakota on September 14. Image Credit: University of North Dakota

Events like the wildfires show the flexibility of ceilometers. Aaron Kennedy combines ceilometers with other measuring instruments to gain a more holistic insight into various phenomena. For example, Kennedy utilizes an OTT Parsivel², a disdrometer, which measures the precipitation, size and velocity of particles.

The great thing about lidars is they are useful for numerous fields, while the wildfire smoke has impacts on things such as visibility and air quality, the traditional use for ceilometers is to provide cloud heights for aviation. For winter weather, it provides information on the height of the blowing snow layer. In some cases, these observations can be combined with radar and we can even retrieve estimates of properties such as particle size.

Aaron Kennedy, University of North Dakota

Kennedy’s research at the University of North Dakota demonstrates a global trend in atmospheric science, meteorology, and climatology. These disciplines are intimately linked, and scientists are increasingly researching the mutual impacts.

As the effects of the massive wildfires of 2020 demonstrate, lidar instruments, such as the Lufft ceilometers, help to monitor and understand these phenomena.

Acknowledgments

Produced from materials originally authored by Martin Maly from OTT HydroMet. Lufft is one of OTT HydroMet's strong brands for professional environmental monitoring.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by OTT HydroMet.

For more information on this source, please visit OTT HydroMet.

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