Ash cloud and #SciVote roundup

As the Government admits it may have been overcautious in closing down the UK’s airspace for six days, the need for evidence based policies has rarely been more evident during the election campaign. The ash cloud (which is still going) has often been quoted to be invisible to aircraft – but that’s only aircraft without certain equipment used in atmospheric and astronomical observations (or links to satellites and monitoring stations with the same).

Lidar measurements (optical radar, bouncing lasers rather than radio waves off particles) are capable of examining the density, size and shape of particles, useful when determining how much and how dangerous ash is. These plots from the 16th show the cloud and engineering data can be used to extrapolate its effect on aircraft. Lidar are also used by satellites such as Calipso to map ash clouds. ESA satellites such as EnviSat are also having a look, with the latest picture here. All of these efforts are part of the less sexy Earth observation program that often gets hammered in terms of UK funding because the ‘impact’ is not obvious enough to ministers. Whereas Hubble celebrating twenty years in space is rightly getting attention across the world, ERS-2, which is celebrating fifteen years of watching the Earth won’t be looking forward to similar plaudits if it lives out another five years.

There are fightbacks in evidence, such as the Science Party (who tweet here) standing in Bosworth. Hopefully, if we can put a few more scientists and a few less lawyers in parliament, misunderstandings on issues such as what is an IP address could be relegated to the past…

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