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Iceland volcano’s uncertain timescale

April 18, 2010
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A few articles on the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull

From the BBC

Iceland volcano’s uncertain timescale

Scientists are struggling to work out if the eruption itself could continue for days, weeks or even months.

But, as Professor Jon Davidson – an earth scientist from the University of Durham – told BBC News, it was not the eruption per se that caused the problem.

“It’s the fact that the prevailing winds are driving the ash plume over the UK,” he explained.

And scientists in Iceland reported on Friday morning that the volcano was continuing to generate a tall plume of ash – contributing to the cloud already drifting high in the atmosphere over the UK.

So the cloud that has grounded UK flights appears to be continuing to grow. And the researchers say that could go on for several days.

Dr David Rothery, a volcanologist from the UK’s Open University agrees this could happen, but suggests that it is unlikely.

Intense and explosive

“It is usual that an explosive eruption like this has its most intensive point at the start and that it gradually subsides,” he told BBC News.

What scientists are trying to find out, he explained, is if the [ongoing] eruption is explosive enough to create a tall column of ash and continue feeding the plume.

It is the explosion that initially forces the ash upward – expanding gas at the eruption site generates thrust. From there, the cloud of dust and gas rises because it is warmer than the surrounding air.

So if the eruption continues to be intense and explosive, giving the ash that initial upward thrust, the plume that has been blown in UK and European airspace could continue to grow.

But according to the most recent reports from the UK Met Office and the Icelandic Met Service, ash is now being released in pulses rather than a continuous plume.

From the BBC

And another brief article on possible effects of this volcano, other than cancelled flights.

From MSNBC

Iceland volcano could have world consequences

Scientists say history has proven that when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupts, Katla follows — the only question is how soon. And Katla, located under the massive Myrdalsjokull icecap, threatens disastrous flooding and explosive blasts when it blows.

<snip>

Iceland’s Laki volcano erupted in 1783, freeing gases that turned into smog. The smog floated across the Jet Stream, changing weather patterns. Many died from gas poisoning in the British Isles. Crop production fell in western Europe. Famine spread. Some even linked the eruption, which helped fuel famine, to the French Revolution. Painters in the 18th century illustrated fiery sunsets in their works.

The winter of 1784 was also one of the longest and coldest on record in North America. New England reported a record stretch of below-zero temperatures and New Jersey reported record snow accumulation. The Mississippi River also reportedly froze in New Orleans.

From MSNBC

And the last article.

From The Union of Concerned Scientists

Iceland Volcano Eruption Too Small to Have Significant Climate Effect, Science Group Says

Volcanic ash from Mt. Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland is disrupting air travel. Could it also disrupt the climate?

The short answer is yes—at least temporarily. When sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions enters the second layer of the atmosphere—the stratosphere—it converts into sulfuric acid particles that act like tiny mirrors reflecting sunlight back into space, cooling the planet. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption, however, is still too small to significantly affect the climate, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The amount of cooling depends on the type of material and the amount of time it stays suspended in the atmosphere.

Eyjafjallajökull pales in comparison to past climate-cooling volcanic eruptions. Eyjafiallajokull’s ash has reached a height of 55,000 feet, according to press reports. By contrast, ash from the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, one of the biggest in the 20th century, reached 78,740 feet. Overall, Pinatubo, which is in the Philippines, ejected 14 to 26 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide that produced a significant global cooling effect for a few years. Following the eruption, this temporary cooling also slowed sea level rise rates temporarily.

Even if a volcanic eruption were big enough to temporarily cool the planet, heat-trapping carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and destroying forests would still pose a significant threat, says UCS climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel.

From The Union of Concerned Scientists

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