NUI Galway gets ESA funding for ash cloud research project

19 Dec 2012

Prof Colin O'Dowd, director, Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies at NUI Galway, pictured with Minister Sean Sherlock, TD

Researchers at NUI Galway have been awarded €500,000 in European Space Agency (ESA) funding as part of a research consortium that has been granted €2.1m to detect ash clouds and to develop a new forecasting system to improve predictions of ash density and dispersion.

The ESA is investing €2.1m in the Volcanic Ash Strategic-initiative Team (VAST) research project, which will be led by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and will involve NUI Galway and the Irish Aviation Authority’s volcanic ash detection and forecasting initiative. Teams from Finland and Austria will also be involved in the research.

The Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD, announced the ESA funding this morning, which was secured with the help of Enterprise Ireland.

The project, which uses satellites and forecast models to detect ash clouds and forecast their movements, came about following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano in 2010. The volcanic eruption resulted in more than 10,000 flights being cancelled across Europe.

The Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies at NUI Galway set out to develop a volcanic plume forecasting model at the time.

As part of the funding announced today, the ESA has awarded NUI Galway €500,000 to further develop and evaluate its ash forecasting model.

As well as this, the Irish Aviation Authority is collaborating with NUI Galway to deploy an ash cloud detection network that will comprise four ground-based remote sensing technologies, known as LIDARS.

The ESA has invested in NUI Galway’s School of Physics and Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies to use the LIDAR data for ash detection.

“The VAST detection and forecasting system is especially designed to facilitate the aviation industry and represents a major technological step forward in combing space-borne and ground-based remote-sensing platforms with sophisticated ash forecasting models,” said Prof Colin O’Dowd, the director of NUI Galway’s Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies.

He said the system would put Europe in poll position in terms of ash cloud detection and forecasting.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic