The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has designed and constructed a mobile light detection and ranging (LiDAR) lab that will assist the uMhlathuze Municipality in monitoring its air quality.

This atmospheric laser radar is a state-of-the-art instrument that uses the most powerful techniques for active remote sensing of the earth’s atmosphere. The CSIR-designed mobile LiDAR system will be used to provide profiles of aerosols from the surface to upper troposphere in the uMhlathuze region.

Weather forecasting, climate modelling, and environmental monitoring

The research project, led by Dr Nkanyiso Mbatha from the University of Zululand (UNIZULU), in collaboration with Prof Sivakumar Venkataraman from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), is important because LiDAR measurements contribute significantly to topics such as weather forecasting, climate modelling, and environmental monitoring.

Dr Mbatha says the uMhlathuze local municipality is a region with high industrial activity, which could lead to changes in local air quality and other environmental issues. The locally based mobile LiDAR system will assist the municipality in monitoring the air quality of the region.

Monitoring impacts of industrial activity

In 2016, the CSIR received a request from Mbatha for laser equipment for a LIDAR programme. The emerging researcher from UNIZULU has been working closely with Venkataraman from the physics department of UKZN, studying high-altitude atmospheric phenomena.

“Dr Mbatha’s interest was to investigate the chemical composition of the troposphere over the City of uMhlathuze, using different ground-based LiDAR system, space-borne systems and model simulation techniques,” says Hardus Greyling, National Programmes Manager of the CSIR National Laser Centre.

“Having a ground-based LiDAR system in Richards Bay will therefore contribute to an already existing network of LiDAR systems and will be used to specifically study the atmosphere above Richards Bay, which could be negatively affected by industrial activity in the region,” he adds.

Commissioning

CSIR technician, Henk van Wyk and lab administrative assistant, Bafana Moya, designed the layout of the mobile laboratory, in consultation with Mbatha and Venkataraman. The construction of the facility began in the 2017/18 financial year.

The system was tested and evaluated during a visit to the CSIR by the two KwaZulu-Natal based researchers and satisfactory measurements up to heights of 15 km were made. The system will now be moved to the UNIZULU campus, where it will be commissioned by the team in early July 2018.