US west coast forests are more and more in the grip of Wildfires.

Keywords : Aerosols, LiDARs, MicroLiDARs, Monitoring, Earth observation, Remote sensing, Wildfire, Smoke, Ash, Fires, Climate Change, Global Warming, Atmospheric Monitoring, Mobile Solutions, Air Quality

June 28th 2022

According to a recent UN report, forest fires will continue to increase by the end of the century. It is especially the case on the west coast of the United States, which is one of the countries most affected by this phenomenon. Whether they are natural or human-caused, these fires are devastating on a large scale.

The global warming makes the conditions more favorable to the start of fires and their proliferation. The climate change is worsening the impacts by prolonging the fire seasons.

California is the most wildfire-prone state in the United States. In 2021, over 9000 wildfires burned in the Southwestern state ravishing nearly 2.23 million acres.

Fires are a danger to life on the planet: smoke inhalation, soil degradation and water pollution, destruction of the habitats of many species… Not to mention the aggravation of global warming due to the destruction of forests, crucial to absorb the carbon that we emit.

Therefore, on summer 2019, NASA initiated FIREX-AQ mission so as to investigate on fire and smoke from wildfire using several measurement instruments across the world, and especially in the US.

NASA uses satellites combined with airborne and ground-based instruments to decipher the impact of wildfires.

The emissions of ash clouds resulting from the fire can be transported thousands of miles and can have an impact on air quality for example as they are responsible for a large fraction of the US PM2.5 emissions. Due to its microscopic size, PM2.5 is easily inhaled and has the potential to travel deep into our respiratory tracts, it can also remain airborne for long periods.

To date, wildfire outputs are still poorly represented in emission inventories.

The overarching objectives of FIREX-AQ are to:

  • Provide measurements of trace gas and aerosol emissions for wildfires and prescribed fires in great detail
  • Relate them to fuel and fire conditions at the point of emission
  • Characterize the conditions relating to plume rise
  • Follow plumes downwind to understand chemical transformation and air quality impacts
  • Assess the efficacy of satellite detections for estimating the emissions from sampled fires

For this purpose, CIMEL provided CE376 micro-LiDARs as well as its network of CE318-T photometers through AERONET. These solutions allowed detailed measurements of aerosols emitted from wildfires and agricultural fires to address science topics and evaluate impacts on local and regional air quality, and how satellite data can be used to estimate emissions more accurately.

Figure 1: CE376 micro-LiDAR and CE318-T photometers embarked on a car for FIREX-AQ mobile measurements campaign in Western US (2019).

Indeed, the synergy of the photometer with the mobile CE376 LiDAR allows profiling the extinction at 2 wavelengths (532, 808 nm) and of the Angstrom Exponent (AE). AE vertical profile and the depolarization capabilities of the CE376 allow identifying the aerosol type (fine/coarse). Below are some results from the FIREX-AQ 2019 mission:

Figure 2: Mapping of smoke vertical and spatial dispersion thanks to mobile LIDAR and photometer measurements by Dr. Ioana POPOVICI.   

Figure 3:  Mapping and modelization from FIREX-AQ campaign in Western US (2019) by LiDAR CE376.


FIREX-AQ experience proved that we are able to embark compact remote sensing instruments and install them quickly on site to access harsh environments and get close to fire sources, which has not been done before. Actually, it is the first time a LIDAR reaches that close to fire sources in a mountainous region.



Giles, D. M. and Holben, B. and Eck, T. F. and Slutsker, I. and LaRosa, A. D. and Sorokin, M. G. and Smirnov, A. and Sinyuk, A. and Schafer, J. and Kraft, J. and Scully, A. and Goloub, P. and Podvin, T. and Blarel, L. and Proniewski, L. and Popovici, I. and Dubois, G. and Lapionak, A., (2020), Ground-based Remote Sensing of the Williams Flats Fire Using Mobile AERONET DRAGON Measurements and Retrievals during FIREX-AQ, 2020, AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts.


Stratéole-2 Becool: microLiDARs span the globe aboard hot-air balloon up to 22km high in the stratosphere.

Keywords : Aerosols, LiDARs, monitoring, Earth observation, remote sensing, stratosphere, troposphere.

April 13th 2022

On the night of Wednesday, August 22, 2018, the CIMEL’s microLiDAR flew for the first time in a stratospheric balloon for the validation of the project, from Timmins Air Force Base, in Ontario (Canada).

Stratéole-2 is a program of observation of the dynamics of the atmosphere in the intertropical zone developed in partnership between CNRS and CNES. The LATMOS (Atmosphere, environment and space observations laboratory) through its joint laboratory with CIMEL: CIEL), the LMD (Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory) and the CSA (Canadian spatial agency) are also collaborating in this project. 

This Stratéole-2 project called BECOOL (BalloonbornE Cirrus and convective overshOOt Lidar) mainly consists in placing CIMEL’s MicroLiDARs in stratospheric hot-air balloons and flying them around the world. The on-board aerosols microLiDARs emit lasers downwards, contrary to the initial use (the shots are normally done from the ground towards the atmosphere).

The project Stratéole-2 represents several challenges as CIMEL had to develop, in collaboration with the LATMOS a microLiDAR prototype which must correspond to the following standards:

  • Weighting less than 7 kg
  • Consuming less than 10 W
  • Resisting to harsh temperature conditions

Indeed, CIMEL’s LiDARS are well known for their robustness and their energetic Self-reliance which allows a low maintenance: practical when the LiDARs are up to 20km in the stratosphere!

Figure 1: Preparation of a stratospheric balloon before the takeoff

The program uses stratospheric pressurized balloons filled with helium 11 to 13 meters in diameter. During 3 to 4 months, they are carried by the winds all around the tropical belt and are propelled up to 20 kilometers in the atmosphere. Some can travel across 80,000 kilometers around the world (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Stratéole-2 Long-duration balloon flights across the tropics to study atmospheric dynamics and composition /

The project includes a total of three measurement campaigns realized between 2018 and 2024. Contrary to the previous one which served as a validation, the second campaign was for scientific purposes. It started in mid-October 2021 and ended in April 2022 . No less than eight microLidar balloons were released in the atmosphere from the Seychelles (Mahé). They collected valuable information which will then be analyzed for the study of atmospheric phenomena and their role in the climate. The third campaign is planned for 2024.

The objectives are to try to clarify some of the grey areas that hinder our detailed understanding of the atmosphere and its role in the Earth’s climate. BECOOL allows scientists to study atmospheric dynamics and composition such as convection or the dynamic coupling between the troposphere and the stratosphere. Exchanges and air movements between these two atmospheric layers are important and influence the whole planet.

However, the tropical region is difficult to access. Consequently, the classical methods of observation (by satellites, by plane, …) are not enough. This is why using balloons is strategic: they are the only ones able to observe these phenomena in real time and very closely to the atmosphere.

“It is a completely original mode of sampling, which is not obtained otherwise and allows results of unequalled finesse” (A.Hertzog).

Below is a quicklook from a Stratéole-2 microLiDAR taken from a balloon.

Figure 3: Quicklook LATMOS-Stratéole 2018


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François Ravetta, Vincent Mariage, Emmanuel Brousse, Eric d’Almeida, Frédéric Ferreira, et al.. BeCOOL: A Balloon-Borne Microlidar System Designed for Cirrus and Convective Overshoot Monitoring. EPJ Web of Conferences, EDP Sciences, 2020, The 29th International Laser Radar Conference (ILRC 29), 237, 07003 (2p.). ff10.1051/epjconf/202023707003ff. ffinsu-02896973f


La Palma eruption (Canary Islands) – volcanic plumes tracking by our LiDARs

Keywords : LiDARs, Aerosols, Atmosphere, La Palma, Cumbre Vieja volcano, CE376.

6th October 2021

The Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma in the Canary Islands erupted on 19th September for the first time since 1971 resulting in large lava flows and evacuations.

Due to the volcanic eruption, nearly 10 000 tons of sulfur dioxide are released in the atmosphere every day. The risks generated are acid rain and deterioration of air quality which can lead to respiratory problems.

In a few words, this phenomenon is due to the fact that the lava of the volcano which reaches 1000°C meets the sea water which is at around 20°C. Therefore, the sodium chloride contained in the sea breaks down the water into oxygen and hydrogen. However, when hydrogen meets chlorine, they turn into hydrochloric acid which is an extremely dangerous gas.

There are many consequences such as the impact on the air quality which directly concerns the surrounding populations who breathe a toxic smoke harmful for their health.

Air traffic is also strongly impacted as all the flights departing from the island have been cancelled. These disturbances are also due to the lack of instruments measuring aerosols (such as LiDARs) to accurately identify the location of the volcanic ash as well as its characteristics and concentration.

Our CE376 LiDARs in AEMET (Izaña) is tracking plumes of the volcanic ash from the volcanic eruption on La Palma and here are some results to illustrate it.

Figure 1: Quicklook revealing the volcano plumes as captured on 24 September by AEMET in Izaña.

The volcano is propelling air into the atmosphere which meets a thermal inversion – a reversal of the normal behavior of temperature in the troposphere where a layer of hot air sits above a layer of cooler air.

Figure 2: Picture by Virgilio Carreño (Izaña Atmospheric research center, AEMET) showing the interaction of the gas and ash plume of the eruptive column leaving the volcano with the altitude thermal inversion layer of the atmosphere through which the Sahara desert dust transcends.

ESA – New remote sensing tech on satellite for atmospheric measurements

VEGA Rocket

ESA – New remote sensing tech on satellite for atmospheric measurements


On September 3rd 2020, ESA has launched 42 small satellites aboard a Vega rocket from Kourou in French Guiana for the Copernicus Project.

This new type of satellites capable of measuring CO2 emissions to the nearest kilometer and pinpointing their origin.

One of these nanosatellites, PICASSO, carries remote sensing technology developed which will be used to undertake measurements in the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere.

PICASSO stands for Pico-Satellite for Atmospheric and Space Science Observations and it’s the first CubeSat nanosatellite mission of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy.

Weighing only 3.5kg, it carries two measuring instruments for atmospheric research: A Visible Spectral Imager for Occultation and Nightglow (VISION) and a system to conduct plasma measurements in the ionosphere, the Sweeping Langmuir Probe (SLP).

This project of analysis and collection of satellite data will be carried out over 5 years. The aim is to obtain as much precise information as possible on the quantification of gases in the air.

We will be able to know exactly the real CO2 emission by country, cities and the origin of gases (if it’s anthropogenic or natural).

Thanks to this initiative, more and more surveillance systems will be sent into space over the next few years, which will help develop the market for remote sensing solutions.

Cimel will be part of this development by bringing additional data thanks to its photometers and LiDARs to help calibrate and validate data from satellites.

Credits: ESA-M. Pedoussaut