Detection and quantification of volcanic ash for aircraft hazard mitigation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is focused on characterising volcanic ash clouds via the design of a novel ash-box in the laboratory and uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) flights which were carried out at Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) stubs and an optical particle counter were used to look at particle distributions and concentrations in both situations, with the limitations of these sensors being explored. Using the ash-box allows particles to be contained within an enclosed space and their dispersion to be analysed, whilst also providing a testing place for sensors before deployment in the field. The UAV flights conducted at Volcan de Fuego collected data on the use of an aerodynamic baffle to enhance very fine particle (<1 micron) collection, and sampled both proximal and distal ash clouds. Never seen before, fast forming volcanic ash aggregates were also collected on two of the SEM stubs deployed at Volcan de Fuego. The potential processes involved in their formation are discussed, along with possible implications for ash dispersal models. Overall, combining laboratory techniques and the collection of in-situ data has led to new methods for understanding volcanic ash clouds. These sensors, or similar, could potentially be used by aircraft when in-flight to alert pilots to any potential dangers. Further understanding ash cloud characteristics is also beneficial to ash dispersal models, which can help prevent aircraft from coming into contact with harmful concentrations of ash.
Date of Award19 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorI M Watson (Supervisor)

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