Understanding the Ash Cloud: Analysis of Eyjafjallajokull’s Fallout Over Iberia


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iceland volcano ash cloud

The progress of Eyjafjallajokull's ash cloud: Image courtesy FLEXPART/NILU

Remember the chaos caused by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallojokull volcano in the spring of 2010? If you were one of the millions of people stranded abroad, or unable to make it to a holiday or business meeting in Europe as the ash cloud closed airports across the northern, western and central regions of the continent, you won’t forget it in a hurry.

The Eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010

At the time, the closure of the airports for safety reasons caused huge economic losses, particularly to airlines, as well as considerable controversy over the decision to close airports and European airspace and the revision of what constituted ‘safe’ limits of ash. Two years on, scientists are moving towards detailed analysis of the ash cloud with the aim of improving management of any future recurrence of the problem.

Analyzing the Ash Cloud

In an analysis of how the ash cloud affected the Iberian Peninsula, where airports were not closed but where flights to other parts of Europe were cancelled, researchers from CIEMAT (Spain’s Research Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology) have published information on the nature and progress of the ash cloud in southern Europe.

The Smithsonian institute and US Geological Survey’s Global Volcanism Program describes how the initial eruption on 20 March caused local problems but didn’t become significantly disruptive until over three weeks later, on the 15 April. This was the result of what is described as “a strong phase of eruption of ash into the atmosphere.”

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