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

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The Ash Cloud Over Iberia

The CIEMAT study focused closely on the composition and nature of the ash cloud in the south of Europe, some 3000 km away from its source, and was based upon the use of lidar data (remote sensing technology) to record what was happening at altitude, as well as other readings taken at ground level.

Cloud of ash over Iceland's volcano

The eruption generated huge volumes of ash: Image courtesy of Fridgeirsson

Broadly speaking, the damaging components of an ash cloud are twofold – the larger particles, which can cause damage to aircraft engines, and the much smaller particles, called aerosols, which are more significant in terms of the damage they can cause to health. Although ash particles of the size which closed airports continent-wide weren’t found in Spain and Portugal, researcher Aranxta Revuelta told Decoded Science that the most significant finding was “the identification of fine sulfate particles in Madrid on the ground.”

Understanding the Volcanic Plume

The study results indicated that the volcanic plume had indeed increased levels of potentially harmful pollutants, such as sulfates and sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere and on the ground, even beyond the area over which the ash was perceived to be damaging to aircraft. Scientists hope, as the study concludes, that “the information on volcanic aerosol characteristics after long-range transport…might contribute to better assess the type of aerosol that reach distant location.

Sources

Gill, V. Was the flight ban necessary? (2010). BBC News online. Accessed May 18, 2012.

Smithsonian/USGS. Global Volcanism Program reports from 2010. Accessed May 18, 2012.

Revuelta, M.A. et al. Characterization of the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic plume over the Iberian Peninsula by lidar remote sensing and ground-level data collection. (2012). Atmospheric Environment. Accessed May 18, 2012.

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