Ca II K interstellar observations towards early-type disc and halo stars, abundances and distances of intermediate- and high-velocity clouds

We present Ca II K (lambda air = 3933.661A) interstellar observations towards 20 early-type stars, to place lower distance limits to intermediate- and high-velocity clouds (IHVCs) in their lines of sight. The spectra are also employed to estimate the Ca abundance in the low-velocity gas towards these objects, when combined with Leiden-Dwingeloo 21-cm HI survey data of spatial resolution 0.[degrees]5. Nine of the stars, which lie towards IHVC complexes H, K and gp, were observed with the intermediate dispersion spectrograph on the Isaac Newton Telescope at a resolution R = ?/ ? of 9000 (?33 km s?1) and signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) per pixel of 75�140. A further nine objects were observed with the Utrecht Echelle Spectrograph on the William Herschel Telescope at R = 40 000 (?7.5 km s?1) and S/N per pixel of 10�25. Finally, two objects were observed in both Ca II K and Na I D lines using the 2D COUD�E spectrograph on the McDonald 2.7-m telescope at R = 35 000 (?8.5 km s?1). The abundance of Ca II K {log10(A) = log10[N(Ca II K)]?log10[N(H I)]} plotted against HI column density for the objects in the current sample with heights above the Galactic plane (z) exceeding 1000 pc is found to obey theWakker & Mathis (2000) relation. Also, the reduced column density of Ca II K as function of z is consistent with the larger sample taken from Smoker et al. (2003). Higher S/N observations than those previously taken towards HVC complex H stars HD13256 and HILT 190 reinforce the assertion that this lies at a distance exceeding 4000 pc. No obvious absorption is detected in observations of ALS 10407 and HD357657 towards IVC complex gp. The latter star has a spectroscopically estimated distance of ?2040 pc, although this was derived assuming the star lies on the main sequence and without any reddening correction being applied. Finally, no Ca II K absorption is detected towards two stars along the line of sight to complex K, namely PG 1610+529 and PG 1710+490. The latter is at a distance of ?700 pc, hence placing a lower distance limit to this complex, where previously only an upper distance limit of 6800 pc was available.