Monday, April 19, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland

Photo by Albert Jakobsson
The beautiful Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland captured with an Aurora Borealis. There just happened to be a strong geomagnetic storm at the same time.
Though it registered a "7" on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of magnetic disturbances, the storm is expected to pass quickly. The silver lining, for those at high-latitudes anyway, is a beautiful show of auroras -- the result of high-energy particles from the sun smashing into oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere. As the molecules return to normal, they give off energy in the form of photons. The colors in the aurora depend on which atmospheric gas is being revved up by the invading electrons and how much energy is being exchanged. Oxygen emits greenish yellow or red light; Nitrogen generally produces blue.

AP Photo by Brynjar Gaudi

The volcano is erupting under a glacier...
The first one in March, which stopped a few days ago, had very beautiful lava fountains and I could go very close and take beautiful pictures. It was what we call here a tourist eruption.

This one, last week, was different. It started underneath a glacier nearby the first eruption. It melted down a lot of ice and we had huge floods. When the lava hits the water you have a huge explosion and it explodes into thin dust . You cannot go close to this eruption because it’s on top of a mountain and the explosions are huge. The hole is about 5,000 meters wide and 2 kilometers long. (Ragnar Sigurdsson)

The resulting ash has been drifting over Europe causing a huge disruption in air travel.

UK sends warships to rescue stranded Britons
LONDON – Britain sent Royal Navy warships on Monday to rescue those stranded across the Channel by the volcanic ash cloud and the aviation industry blasted European officials, claiming there was "no coordination and no leadership" in the crisis that shut down most European airports for a fifth day.

Eurocontrol, the air traffic agency in Brussels, said less than one-third of flights in Europe were taking off Monday — between 8,000 and 9,000 of the continent's 28,000 scheduled flights. Passengers in Asia who had slept on airport floors for days and were running out of money staged protests at airport counters.

All airports were open Monday in Spain and the country volunteered to become the new hub of Europe to get stranded passengers moving again. Infrastructure minister Jose Blanco said Spain could to take in around 100,000 people under the new emergency plan, which focuses on aircraft trying to bring Britons home from Asia, Latin America and North America.
Spain will also beef up train, bus and ferry services to get travelers to their destinations, he said.

European airlines sought financial compensation for a crisis that is costing the industry an estimated $200 million a day. British Airways said it was losing up to 20 million pounds ($30 million) a day and other airlines were also racking up huge losses.

Hundreds of thousands of travelers have been stuck since the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier begun erupting Wednesday for the second time in a month.

As pressure mounted from airlines, European civil aviation authorities were holding a conference call Monday about what steps could be taken toward opening airspace.

"It's embarrassing, and a European mess," said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association. "It took five days to organize a conference call with the ministers of transport and we are losing $200 million per day (and) 750,000 passengers are stranded all over. Does it make sense?"

In Paris, the IATA expressed its "dissatisfaction with how governments have managed it, with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership." The group urged governments to more urgently "focus on how and when we can safely reopen Europe's skies" — such as with more in-depth study of the ash cloud....

It's interesting to see how severely transportation can be disrupted by a natural event such as this.

As an Editor at the New York Times puts it:

When severe storms blow through, meteorologists can track their path and predict with considerable confidence when the disturbance will end. Volcanoes don’t blow through. Even with all of the sophisticated monitoring technology and expertise, no one knows when the eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull — the Icelandic volcano now venting ash into the atmosphere — will subside.

That uncertainty only deepens the sense of helplessness across Europe, where much of the airspace has been closed since late last week, stranding millions of passengers across the globe. Even President Obama had to forgo his planned trip to Poland for Sunday’s funeral of President Lech Kaczynski.

Like the ash cloud, the economic costs of this eruption are immense. The airlines, which estimate that they have lost about a billion dollars worldwide, are pressing officials to allow at least some flights to resume. For all that, the physical damage is minute, especially when compared with the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China. Luckily it has taken no lives.

What Eyjafjallajokull has done above all is force upon us a visceral awareness of our interconnected world — woven together by the crisscrossing of airline routes.... It will be a long time before we forget the threat that lies smoldering under an Icelandic glacier. Or its lesson that even in the 21st centry, our lives are still at the sufferance of nature.
Photo by Barcroft

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