Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

UPDATE: 21 APRIL. Flights in the UK were allowed to resume at 22.00 last night subject to each plane being inspected after each flight for ash damage so there will be delays in turnaround times. It will probably take a few days to return to normal for most regular routes but airlines will do their utmost to get back to normal as fast as possible so they can start earning money again.
What have volcanologists learnt from previous eruptions in other parts of the world? And what are the long term consequences for flight and for the climate? Available on BBC iPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/, and featuring Dr Dave Rothery, S186 Course Team Chairman as one of ‘the world’s leading volcano experts’. Broadcasts 1. Wed 21 Apr 2010 10:32 BST BBC World Service 2. Wed 21 Apr 2010 15:32 BST BBC World Service 3. Wed 21 Apr 2010 20:32 BST BBC World Service 4. Thu 22 Apr 2010 01:32 BST BBC World Service 5. Sat 24 Apr 2010 14:32 BST BBC World Service.
Iain Stewart reveals some interesting but little-known scientific facts. Volcanic eruptions are among the most destructive and deadly events in nature. But there is far more to volcanoes than death and destruction – without volcanoes our planet would be a very different place, lacking not only an atmosphere but also life itself. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074spx

UPDATE: 20 April. Flights resume in Scotland this morning but many planes are our of position. Flights from England, Ireland and Wales are scheduled for later in the day but more ash may be heading towards the UK and Ireland so further suspensions may occur. No Ryanair or Thomson flights are scheduled until Wednesday. Check with your airlines.

UPDATE: 19 April Here is a link to an interview that D. Dave Rothery gave on Radio 5 today about the Eyjafjoll eruption. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s1tk6/Morning_Reports_19_04_2010

Following on from my previous report, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland continues to cause havoc in the UK.

Dr David Rothery appeared on BBC Newsround at 5pm 15/04/2010 talking about the eruption in more detail. You can watch this here:http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_8350000/newsid_8356400/8356443.stm

Whilst the ash plume (which is now drifting between 20,000 and 36,000 feet, a height dangerous to aircraft, with the high winds in a South-Easterly direction, reaching northern parts of Europe situated 1200 miles away from the volcano in question) is preventing the Barack Obama and the rest of the world leader from attending the funeral on Sunday of the Polish president (who died in a plane crash last week) and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe’s plans for a big birthday party are in tatters, the rest of the world is stuck waiting for flights to be resumed so that they can get home – I have friends waiting in LA and Norway who are desperate to get home.

An extended holiday sounds great, in theory, but the reality for the travelers are not nearly as pleasant: Where will the people stay? How will they get home? And more to the point, when?

Many people are informed that flights will be resumed this evening – Air traffic restrictions in the UK will be in place until 0100BST tomorrow. But is this realistic?

On one hand we are told that the ash is subsiding, but bearing in mind that prior to the 20th march eruption, the previous eruption of its kind was in 1821 – and continued for two years.

Although considered a relatively “small eruption, negative effects (obviously not on air traffic!) still followed:

  • The high fluoride levels in the ash had a direct negative impact on the bone structure of animals and humans.
  • The melting glaciers flooded nearby rivers.
  • Farmers lost livestock due to fluoride poisoning

What is more worrying is that when Eyjafjallajökull has erupted in the past (in 920, 1612 and 1821–1823) the nearby subglacial volcano, Katla, erupted directly afterwards. Geophysicists and seismologists are monitoring this closely (monitoring volcanogenic earthquakes is still one of the most effective means of predicting eruptions), but so far there are no indications that an eruption here is imminent.
However predicting the future of any volcano is difficult: have we had the “main event” yet, or is worse to follow, and if so, when…..

Further Information:

  • Updated predicted ash reports (as above) can be found here: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation/vaac/vaacuk_vag.html
  • Rothery, D. A., 2007, Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, Teach Yourself Series, Hodder & Stoughton Educational
  • A 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.
  • 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