Airline Hopes To Avoid Volcanic Ash Clouds With New Technology

volcanic ashVolcanic ash is something commercial airliners want nothing to do with. When Alaska’s Cleveland volcano erupted not long ago, shooting low levels of ash into the atmosphere, many airlines were concerned. Another blast could send ash higher, directly into their flight path between Asia and North America, causing major flight schedule disruptions. But while most airlines watch and wait, one is taking some proactive steps to deal with volcanic activity.

Ash clouds are a major problem for commercial airliners, which can literally fall out of the sky if they attempt to fly through one. The problem is the tiny volcanic ash particles. If they get into a jet engine, ash particles can block the ventilation holes that let in air to cool the engine. Accumulate enough of them and engine heat can transform the particles back into molten lava, something you don’t want in your jet engine. In 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano ejected an ash plume 30,000 feet into the sky, crippling airlines in northwest Europe for days as nearly 20 airports closed their airspace.Looking for ways to minimize the effect of volcanic eruptions, EasyJet has partnered with aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Nicarnica Aviation, a company that specializes in remote sensing technology to detect ash at the speed and altitude of commercial aircraft. To do that, EasyJet will fly a ton of volcanic ash from Iceland to an Airbus base in France where it will test the new uses for infrared technology-based Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector (AVOID) equipment in August.

During the test, an Airbus plane will disperse the ash into the atmosphere and create an artificial ash cloud. A second Airbus test aircraft equipped with AVOID technology will (hopefully) detect and avoid the artificial ash cloud at over 30,000 feet.

Want to see an ash cloud up close, as it is being created? Check out this video:



[Image credit - Flickr user coolinsights]

Archaeologists explore “Pompeiis” in Bulgaria and El Salvador

Nikopolis ad Istrum, Bulgaria, Pompeii
Pompeii is an archaeological wonder, an entire Roman town preserved by a volcanic eruption. Now archaeologists are investigating two other “Pompeiis” to learn more about the past.

In El Salvador, a team has discovered a village dating to c. 630 AD that was covered in volcanic ash. Joya de Ceren was sealed up so well that archaeologists have been able to examine corn cobs, the logs used to build homes, and even the paths leading through the village and how crops were planted.

Archaeology is generally biased towards big sites, both because they’re easier to find and because it’s easier to get funding to excavate them. Finding a small village that was inhabited by only 100-200 commoners helps us understand how the other half lived. The village has been declared a World Heritage Site.

At the Roman city of Nikopolis ad Istrum in Bulgaria, an archaeological team is working on another “Pompeii”. This Roman city was never buried in a volcanic eruption but it’s so well preserved, scientists make the comparison anyway. An archaeological team is exploring a temple to Cybele, a mother goddess.

I’ve been to Nikopolis ad Istrum and was very impressed. The city was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 101-106 AD. It was a major center of trade and culture until Attila the Hun trashed it in 447 AD. So it goes. Attila wasn’t very thorough and the town soon flourished again under the Byzantines. Today you can walk the streets, see the foundations of many buildings and even spot some of their decoration. You can even trace the sewers, which are a lot less stinky than they used to be.

[Photo courtesy Klearchos Kapoutsis]

Volcanic ash nearly gone, air safety experts say

smiely, volcanic ashThe volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn that caused hundreds of flight cancellations in Europe has nearly dissipated.

Eurocontrol, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, reports there are no flight cancellations expected today. While a small amount of volcanic ash remains hovering over Europe, it is within safety limits and “will have very little or no impact on European air traffic in the coming 48 hours.”

All of European air space is currently open. Starting on Monday, Scotland and the rest of the UK experienced airport shutdowns, followed by Denmark, Norway, and Germany.

About 900 flights were canceled from Monday to Wednesday because of the volcano. This amounts to only one percent of all flights scheduled for those days.

Looks like we got off lucky this time.

[Image courtesy East718 via Wikimedia Commons]

Some German airports shut because of Iceland volcano

ash, Iceland volcanoAsh from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn that caused hundreds of flight cancellations in the UK, Denmark, and Norway yesterday has now moved over Germany, shutting down airports in the north of the country.

Hamburg and Bremen airports are closed. Berlin airport will probably close this morning as well. At least 600 flights are expected to be affected.

Poland may also be affected today but otherwise flights in, out, and around Europe should be operating. There may be knock-on delays because of the disruption in Germany so check ahead before going to the airport.

In better news, Grimsvötn has stopped erupting. Let’s hope it keeps behaving.

Have you been affected by the volcanic ash? Feel free to vent in the comments section!

[Micrograph of volcanic ash courtesy US Geological Survey]

UPDATE: (9:23 EDT) The BBC is reporting that Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin airports have reopened. About 700 flights were cancelled.

Iceland volcano cancels flights

Iceland volcano, Grimsvotn
Here we go again.

After last year’s misery from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, now another Icelandic volcano, Grimsvötn, is causing a new round of worries.

More than 250 flights have already been canceled as a cloud of volcanic ash blows over Scotland. Most of Ireland, northern Wales, and northern England will see the ash later today.

Several Scottish airports have been affected, including major ones such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Other airports that will likely have problems today include Londonderry, Prestwick, Durham Tees Valley, Newcastle, and Carlisle. Officials say the cloud should move on and flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow will resume this afternoon. Airports in the far north of Scotland should get the all-clear tomorrow. Of course, that’s assuming there are no more eruptions or changes in the wind.

Luckily the wind has taken much of the ash away from populated areas, over the far north Atlantic, eastern Greenland, and north of Scandinavia.

Several airlines are not flying through Scottish airspace. You can see a full list here. Since the northerly route between Europe and North America passes through the ash cloud, transatlantic flights may have to be diverted, causing delays. Check ahead before going to the airport.

So far this doesn’t look like another Eyjafjallajökull. The Grimsvötn eruption is smaller and the ash particles are bigger, meaning they fall to earth more quickly instead of hanging in the atmosphere for days.

Have your travel plans been affected by the Grimsvötn eruption? Tell us about it in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Roger McLassus]