Dust the volcanic ash off your suitcase and take the train

The volcanic effects on travel and tourism

We are all smart enough not to travel to flooded areas, but the truth is that natural disasters such as volcanoes do not just affect the area surrounding their location: The er uption yesterday of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland, the second time in less than a month, after geoscientists were forwarded of signs of life – after being dormant for nearly 200 years – by the occurrence of 1000s of small earthquakes which started at the end of 2009.

The climax was marked by a tall eruption column spewing volcanic ash 8 miles into the atmosphere.

But why has this affected the UK?

The answer lies in the high altitude winds, which are carrying the ash cloud towards Europe, and are expected to have covered the whole of our island before the end of today.

Dr David Rothery, Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences at The Open University said:
“This is not a dense cloud, and is unlikely to be noticed by people on the ground, though we may have a spectacularly red sunset this evening.” (High levels of ash in the atmosphere lead to unusually spectacular sunsets)

Graphical output of the spread of ash clouds (above) is also produced on a regular basis for the Icelandic authorities, to enable air traffic restrictions to be put in place rapidly.

And this is why CD-Traveller’s editor, Adrian, along with 1000s of others, is facing a cancelled flight from Glasgow to London this evening. In fact, there will be no flights north of London until further notice and there are reports of London airports being closed from 11am until at least 7pm.

live map of airborne flights can be found at http://www.radarvirtuel.com/ – this illustrates how air traffic is currently being limited by this natural disaster.

UPDATE 15-Apr-2010 16:20 – The above link is currently unavailable due to heavy traffic. As is the NATS website. As an alternative, the Met Office has a page dedicated to Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres where information can be found.

Dr David Rothery explains that “air traffic restrictions have very properly been applied, resulting in closure of airports and airspace. This is because if volcanic ash particles are ingested into a jet engine, they accumulate and clog the engines with molten glass. In 1982 British Airways and Singapore Airways jumbo jets lost all their engines when they flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, and a KLM flight had a similar experience in 1989 over Alaska. On each occasion, the plane fell to within a few thousand feet of the ground before it was possible to restart the engines.

As a result of those experiences, emergency procedure manuals for pilots were changed. Previously, when engines began to fail the standard practice had been to increase power. This just makes the ash problem worse. Nowadays, a pilot will throttle back and lose height so as to drop below the ash cloud as soon as possible. The inrush of cold, clean air is usually enough to shatter the glass and unclog the engines. Even so, the forward windows may have become so badly abraded by ash that they are useless, and the plane has to land on instruments.”

Further Information:

  • Rothery, D. A., 2007, Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, Teach Yourself Series, Hodder & Stoughton Educational
  • The Open University:“Volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis is one of a series of short, flexible 10-point courses introducing fascinating topics in science. If you’ve ever been intrigued or affected by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or tsunamis and want to find out more about why they happen and what they do, then this is the course for you.”http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/s186.htm

Related Video: