Friday, April 16, 2010

Aspects of Eyjafjallajökull volcano

This article is mainly a thread to discuss various aspects of the volcano that erupted beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland - which I will call the E-word glacier for obvious reasons.

Global warming has evaporated the glacier ;-) so thousands of tons of ash are flying above Europe. Yes, of course: volcano eruptions are caused by climate change, much like everything else.

Even if global warming were causing eruptions ;-), it's irrelevant now because there's been no warming in Iceland since 1941.

You should ignore the data from 1947 (incorrectly lowered average) and 1948 (completely absent) - the downward peak - because the daily data from April 1947 through December 1948 are unavailable.

Mathematica command used to produce the graph above:
DateListPlot[WeatherData["Reykjavik", "MeanTemperature", {{1900, 1, 1}, {2009, 12, 31}, "Year"}], Joined -> True]
If you don't believe global warming, the only alternative is that Iceland is trying to punish Europe for its cheeky attempts to get Iceland's debt - and it is revenging for the reductions of its rating. :-)

OK, fine: the eruption could also have something to do with geology because the interior of the Earth is very hot, several million degrees :-).

The airports in a dozen of European countries are closed - and I expect a similar situation to continue for days (but Sweden has already begun to reopen the airports). Most passengers are unlikely to get the money for their canceled flights back because the European law considers eruptions as "interventions of higher powers" that remove the responsibility from the airlines. However, they're still expected to try to book another flight for you.

The dust is coming from the Northwest. Of course, the center of Europe is the ultimate criterion whether the dust has conquered Europe or not.

The situation in the Czech Republic was such that the airspace was only closed above the Northwestern Bohemia before 10:00 a.m. However, at 1:00 p.m., the whole Czech airspace has joined the airspaces that were closed. At 3:00 p.m., the Slovak airspace was closed as well, just a few hours after our brothers boasted that a low pressure system would surely protect them against anything. :-)

Fireworks via Flickr: click for more pictures.

The airplanes may be damaged by the ash: scratches on the pilots' windows, reduced visibility, possible contagion of the aircrafts' "breathing systems". The same thing holds for humans: if you happen to see the dust falling, you don't want to breath it too much.

Stay home. However, when you don't see anything, it's because there's nothing to be seen. People in Iceland where the concentration is 1,000 times higher than at your place are doing just fine, conveniently driving their cars.

The eruption is believed to be negligible relatively to the 1991 Mt Pinatubo eruption, so it is unlikely (see also RIA, ABC in AU 1, 2) to affect the global mean temperature. After the 1991 eruption in the Philippines, the global temperature may have dropped by 0.5 °C at least for five years.

The ongoing Iceland eruption is lower by orders of magnitude. It is also much smaller than the 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland. But the recent eruption was enough for you to see some beautifully red sunsets.

However, the eruption hasn't stopped yet so the counting may be premature. If you want to get really optimistic, the previous eruption of the same Icelandic E-word volcano began in 1821 but it fully stopped two years later, in 1823! ;-) By 2012, the Europeans may learn to use trains and ships again... Also, the influence of the ash on cloudiness may be nonlinear and relatively small eruptions may do a lot of work in creating the condensation seeds of clouds that may screen the sunlight.

Also, some people speculate - and I would really say that it's a speculation - that a bigger nearby volcano Katla which is 8 miles away could join the volcano above the E-word glacier. Such a synchronization has been argued to have occurred in the past but I am somewhat doubtful about it.

If you believe that Katla is about to erupt, you may want to spend the following days, years, or centuries by watching the Katla webcam.

P.S. The name of the E-word glacier is nothing compared to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in North Wales: thanks to Joao.


  1. "the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland - which I will call the E-word glacier for obvious reasons."

    A Czech can speak....!!

  2. The "melting glaciers on top of volcanoes cause eruptions" joke actually was published in No Scientist: here, lol

    The great danger of ash clouds to aviation is that it shuts down any type of engine and most navigation equipment and damage turbine and fan blades.

    The pronunciation of Eyjafjallajokull remains mysterious, and the spelling a mnemonics exercise. I guess it will remain so.

  3. Geckko: haha

    Baco: that's the problem with making jokes about environmentalism. Regardless of the absurdity of your joke, you will always find a nude socialist who has said or written (or both) the same thing completely seriously months if not years before you invented the joke! :-)

  4. Now you can pronounce the wors Eyjafjallajökull:

    Ágúst in Iceland

  5. Dear Ágúst,

    that's a language for a prileged Nordic race only. I've tried many times, and while I might be better than some of the reporters given some standards, I have just no chance to learn it properly, especially not this fast. ;-)

    Best wishes

  6. Lubos

    This nice radar image was shot from the Icelandic Coastguard airplane TF-SYN yesterday:

    Here you can see in to the crater on top of the glacier.

  7. Agust,

    I did try - I could hear the pronounciation on Wikipedia. When I posted my personal understanding of it, I was corrected further down the line with a string of sounds I couldn't possibly relate neither to the written name nor to what I heard... so I guess I'm a basket case regarding Icelandic, and I hate that :-)

    Worse, much worse: if in an e-mail on these matters I just randomly type "Ealetqoggdpailla" or the like, people know it's the volcano. I wonder if this is a reason for despair or a small consolation.

    Maybe I had to live there for a couple of winters.

    I suppose I must be thankful for speaking an almost simple language :-)

  8. Good heavens, they're at it again, now at at Sc Am. (via WUWT now)