Volcanic eruption in Iceland unlikely to have global effects, says CU-Boulder scientist

Apr 16, 2010

The eruption of an Icelandic volcano that sent a huge plume of ash into the atmosphere and caused sweeping disruptions of air traffic over Great Britain and Scandinavia today will likely dissipate in the next several days, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder atmospheric scientist.

Professor Brian Toon, chair of CU-Boulder's atmospheric and oceanic sciences department, said the plume created by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano contains tiny rock particles made up of silicate and basaltic glass that can be extremely damaging to aircraft engines. Unfortunately, the plume is at about 30,000 feet -- the same altitude as jet aircraft fly -- and is directly in the flight path between New York and Europe, he said.

The destination and duration of the volcanic plume depends primarily on like rain and winds, said Toon. The plume should get washed away by rain as it continues to drift east, and likely will have no effect on the United States, he said. Fortunately, the plume also is below the stratosphere, where volcanic gases can have global effects because of a lack of rain there prohibits the removal of volcanic material, he said.

Toon said the amount of sulfur dioxide spewed by the volcano so far poses no threat to as determined by an instrument aboard NASA's Aura satellite. But he noted than an apparently larger eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 1783 --which was written about by Benjamin Franklin -- caused some climate issues in Europe by creating smog-like conditions in London that partially blocked out the sun and persisted through the summer months.

Toon compared the Icelandic eruption to the popping of a champagne bottle cork. When the pressure is released by breeching the rock "cork," gases bubble out, spewing tiny rock particles into the air like champagne droplets. Such rocks threaten the safety of airliners.

Toon was involved in a 2000 NASA research campaign to study Arctic ozone when a research jet passed through a similar Icelandic volcanic plume from Mount Hekla, damaging the engine turbines and subsequently requiring the replacement of the jet's engines at a cost of several million dollars. Several other similar incidents in the past several decades have also caused the failure of jet engines, but the aircraft were able to restart their engines and no crashes occurred, he said.

Explore further: Antarctic ice shelves rapidly thinning

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists lower Alaska volcano threat level

Jul 01, 2009

(AP) -- Alaskans can put away their dust masks and spare air filters, for now, because Mount Redoubt seems to have cooled off since its last major eruption nearly three months ago.

New satellite image of volcanic ash cloud

Apr 15, 2010

This image, acquired today by ESA's Envisat satellite, shows the vast cloud of volcanic ash sweeping across the UK from the eruption in Iceland, more than 1000 km away.

Volcanic ash affects airplanes, weather, sunsets

Apr 15, 2010

(AP) -- In 1989, all four engines of a Boeing 747 over Alaska conked out after it flew into a cloud of volcanic ash. The crew was able to restart them, but incidents like that dramatize why hundreds of flights ...

Recommended for you

Antarctic ice shelves rapidly thinning

1 hour ago

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego researchers has revealed that the thickness of Antarctica's floating ice shelves has recently decreased by as much as 18 percent in certain ...

More big storms increase tropical rainfall totals

Mar 25, 2015

Increasing rainfall in certain parts of the tropics, colloquially described as the wet get wetter and warm get wetter, has long been a projection of climate change. Now observations have shown that an increase ...

Preparing Boston for the "big one"

Mar 25, 2015

In 1755, a major earthquake shook the Boston area, toppling chimneys and inspiring sermons and poems about the wrath of God, such as "Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure" and "The ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.