01.06.2018 - Two volcanic ash ice nucleation projects join forces

With the support of EUROCHAMP 2020 Trans National Access funding, I had an exciting research visit to the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research - Atmospheric Aerosol Research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Upon the kind invitation of Dr. Nsikanabasi Umo and Dr. Ottmar Möhler and along with an enthusiastic team of other researchers and technicians, I participated in a campaign to investigate ice nucleation by fifteen volcanic ash samples using the Aerosol Interaction and Dynamics in the Atmosphere (AIDA) cloud chamber.

Since starting my project earlier this year, I have read about numerous atmospheric studies conducted using the AIDA facility, but this three-story 84 cubic metre cloud chamber is much more impressive in person than on paper. I was lucky to be given the full tour including seeing the huge pumps in the basement which control the air flows, climbing up to the roof to check the air vents, and briefly stepping inside the cooled space between the chamber and its walls to feel temperatures that remind me of a Canadian winter’s day!

I quickly learned the ropes of setting up and running so-called ‘expansion experiments’ which essentially simulate cooling of a rising air parcel in the atmosphere. Strong vacuum pumping of air from the chamber causes a drop in pressure and temperature, and once the relative humidity reaches water saturation, the ash particles activate to cloud droplets, some of which eventually freeze to ice crystals. By means of a suite of online instruments (e.g., particle counters and sizers) and sampling outlets hooked up to the chamber, we were able to monitor various parameters and collect the aerosolised particles, which together will give us insight into how and hopefully why the ash samples behave differently.

A combination of long lab days with early starts (Nsikanabasi frequently arrived before 6 am!), supportive colleagues always willing to assist with operation of the cloud chamber and its aerosol instruments, and the excitement that comes from witnessing ash particles nucleate ice before our very eyes, led to an overall successful campaign and lots of interesting data to be processed. To top it all off, between the science, a few sunny weekends afforded great opportunities to explore the beautiful cities of Karlsruhe, Heidelberg and Strasbourg. Work hard, play hard!

12.03.2018 - On the road in search of samples

I’m back in Leeds after a busy few weeks in Germany and Belgium getting the first balls rolling on the INoVA project...

The trip began with a fruitful visit to Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich to prepare samples with Prof. Don Dingwell within the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. I then attended the INUIT Final/2nd Atmospheric Ice Nucleation Conference in the quaint village of Grasellenbach, alongside several colleagues from the University of Leeds including Prof. Ben Murray. This conference was a great opportunity to meet researchers from around the world working on ice nucleation, and to soak up knowledge on the latest laboratory, field and modelling studies in this area. I look forward to the day when I will be able to present my own findings to this community!

The trip ended with a weekend meeting former colleagues from the Université catholique de Louvain where I had spent my PhD days within the Soil Science and Environment Geochemistry Group. The plan was to attend the 29th International Mineral-Fossil-Gem-Jewel Exchange in search of mineral samples with Gérard Philippe, a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic teaching assistant for the practical mineralogy component of the undergraduate Earth Science course. Gérard was finally unable to make it and so I went along with my friend, doctoral student and teaching assistant Aubry Vandeuren. We ended up spending over six hours passing row upon row of samples with my ‘shopping list’ in hand. I was in complete awe of the extensive collection ranging from quartz in all colours to rare and precious specimens like dioptase. I came away with a handful of common minerals found in volcanic ash, but the best came last when we visited Gérard on the way home. He had carefully prepared a large box of minerals from his own personal collection to give to me (to crush to a fine powder!) for the purpose of the INoVA research. It was a strong reminder of how lucky I am to know many kind people who have gone the extra mile in supporting my scientific endeavours.

Now back from ‘the continent’ with a bag full of samples – I’m eager to dive into labwork! Stay tuned...

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 746695

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