Monday, May 23, 2011

2nd Annual Volcanic Ash Special

Wakey wakey everyone… the alarm has erupted.

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Icelandic Volcanic Ash Special! Here we are, another year, another May, another Icelandic Volcano and another summer with potential disruptions to European Airspace. Luckily for us, at no point during the course of this eruption do I anticipate that this will this get as bad as it did last year because this one is *much much* easier to pronounce: Grímsvӧtn (and for all you real linguists, look! I found an 'i' and 'o' with the thingymigigies on top. ;-)). This one began erupting (this year) on May 21, 2011. The last time it erupted was November 2004.

Here's some really interesting trivia about this volcano, from "His Royal Highness Prof. Al H." (I believe that's almost exactly how he wanted to be acknowledged) who had the opportunity to study the paleo-effects of Grimsvotn eruption during 1973:

"The Grimsvotn lies beneath the world's 3rd largest ice sheet—the Vatnajokull. So, when it erupts, it melts an enormous amount of ice creating the world's largest floods—dwarfs the Mississippi River flood. These huge floods equaling the size of the Amazon River (200,000 m3/sec discharge are called Jokullhaups (Icelandic for glacial burst) last for a few days/week maybe, take out all roads/bridges in sight then the flow returns to ~500 m3/sec. The south coast of Iceland has built out 5 km in the past as a result of this enormous sediment transport event. But the roads and bridges are all temporary—break-away like.

Grimsvotn eruptions have been going on over geologic time frames and the Icelanders (early Vikings who arrived around year 900) are smart enough not to build anything of value on these glacial outwash fans. "

Talk about learning to live with nature! Pretty impressive, huh? Thanks HRHProfAlH! :-)

Now, in case you missed my incredibly informative and hysterically funny (or so I thought) Volcanic Ash Special last year and are planning on air travel in that general vicinity, I'm going to re-cap ( cut and paste ) where you can find information on forecasts and what's going on over there.

For volcanic ash forecasting the world is divided into regions with a Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (or Center ;-); VAAC) per region. Each VAAC is responsible for providing the official global forecast for ash from any misbehaving volcano in its region (see website below). The London VAAC covers Iceland and is based in the UK Met Office:
. This website has the latest Volcanic Ash advisory information. Click on "London VAA: Issued graphics" text ( There's a looong list of numbers (PFXD...) next to a date and time stamp (the time is GMT), click on the top one which is the latest forecast, and you'll see four maps. Each map is a forecast for a different time. The top left map is the first in the series and has the year, the month (05), the date/time (Z stands for Zulu time, which is GMT). The red line shows ash location in the lower levels of the atmosphere (SFC-FL200), the green dotted line (FL200/FL350) is ash location at cruising altitude for many flights. FL stands for Flight Level in this case, not Florida :-), so FL350 is a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft.

For a ROUGH idea of concentration charts (I say rough because these are not an official product in the same sense as the plots above), click here (there's a disclaimer at the top). Then scroll down and you'll see the time and date stamp in bold above each chart for different flight levels. Each chart has blue, grey and red areas that indicate ash concentrations for that time and level.

To read about what mischief the volcano is up to, I go to the Icelandic Met Office: They update this at least daily. An eruption plume of 4-5km or higher (13,000 - 16, 400 ft) indicates that it's still quite active. The plume is currently at 5-9km.

And there we have it. So… anyone we know in the north-western Europe vicinity who is planning on flying across the Atlantic anytime soon? Oh yes, President Obama and his Mrs. I heard he flew into London a day early today to avoid closure of airspace (they've already shut down some airports in Scotland). I bet the reports he gets from his advisors on this topic aren't half so entertaining. Someone should forward this to him. He could probably use a laugh during the day.

If you have any questions I do know a few experts, but some of them are (I hope!) a bit busy making the official forecasts and stuff, so it might be a few months before you get an answer. Not to worry, I'll make up the answers instead. ;-)

Back soon with Tropical Storm stuff! Woo hooo!

Toodle Pip!


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DISCLAIMER: These remarks are just what I think/see regarding volcanic eruptions in Iceland - not the opinion of any organization I represent. If you are making an evacuation decision (o.k.... so this disclaimer I cut and paste from the old one, so if you are in Iceland this bit might apply), please heed your local emergency management announcements. This is not an official forecast. If I "run away, run away" (Monty Python), I'll let you know. Hee hee.