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article imageEruption: Could air traffic in Europe remain impaired for months?

By Igor I. Solar     Apr 17, 2010 in Environment
If the duration of a previous large eruption can be taken as an indication, it could be months before the air space over Europe may become clean enough not to harm jet engines.
The impact of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano on air travel in Europe has been immense and predicting the progress of the activity of the Iceland volcano may be harder than pronouncing its name. On April 14, the volcano exploded through the glacier that covers it producing clouds of ash as high as 11,000 meters, severely disrupting air traffic in Northern Europe. The effect of the ash plume later expanded farther across Northern and Central Europe forcing aviation agencies and airlines to cancel thousand of flights to prevent damage to jet engines.
To struggling airlines cancelling thousand of flights and to a huge number of passengers scrambling to find travel alternatives, the question is how long is this going to last? Officials had expressed hopes that some air travel could resume on Sunday or Monday, however, when winds pushed the ash plume farther south and east, as far as northern Italy, expecting a return to normal flight operations soon is becoming increasingly difficult.
One recent major volcanic eruption occurred in Southern Chile in 2008. On the morning of May 2, 2008, the Chaitén volcano, located only 10 kilometers from the town of the same name in the Los Lagos Region of Chile, began to erupt. Based on the existence of large slopes of volcanic sediments towards the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the volcano may have had a similar eruption about 9 thousand years ago. The Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institute estimated that the previous eruption may have taken place around 7420 B.C. (± 75 years). No activity whatever had been recorded since the area was settled starting 1933 and most Chaitén inhabitants thought of the volcano as “a little mountain”.
Following the eruption, the town of Chaitén was nearly covered by ash and mud.
Chaitén  July 2008. Houses are half buried in ash and mud. The erupting volcano can be seen in the ...
Chaitén, July 2008. Houses are half buried in ash and mud. The erupting volcano can be seen in the background.
Javier Rubilar
The ash cloud produced by the volcano, forming a column 30 Km high, extended east over the Andes reaching Argentinean territory and disrupting air traffic for several days as far as Buenos Aires. Air traffic to the Chilean cities of Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, located near the tip of Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn was also disrupted.
Ash plume of Chaitén volcano  across South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean
Ash plume of Chaitén volcano, across South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean
NASA
Two years since the major eruption, the Chaitén volcano is still active. Seismic activity in the region is becoming less frequent; however, the height of the vapor and ash plume is still significant. Chaitén, formerly the capital of the Palena Province, is still a ghost town. The Chilean Patagonia, where the Chaitén volcano is located, is sparsely populated and air traffic in the region is modest. Thus, the impact of the volcano activity now is negligible.
Chaitén Volcano. Steam and ash plume as seen by the end of 2009.
Chaitén Volcano. Steam and ash plume as seen by the end of 2009.
NASA
Could the Eyjafjallajokull volcano also remain active and spewing ash for several months, possibly years? If so, air traffic in Europe may be in trouble. Busy travelers and tourists may have to get used to ground transportation to get around and between European cities for a while.
More about Iceland, Eruption, Air traffic
 
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