Monday, May 23, 2011

Icelandic volcano update, and a comment on Joplin

We are all reminded of the sudden changes to plans that nature can enforce, at little notice. The eruption of the Grimsfjall/Loki volcano in Iceland continues, and there are now reports of animals beginning to die, as the ash continues to blanket the island. The ejection rate is running at around 1,000 to 2,000 tons per second, and the volcano is considered to be several times the power of last year's eruption. (It can be seen on web camera here). Airlines are allowed to fly, by UK regulation, where the ash density is less than 2 gm per 10 cubic meters of air.

Although the volcano is more powerful than last year's eruption, the magma is not shattering into as small a particle range as happened last year, the fragmentation comes when the hot magma meets the ice or water in the overlying glacier. But as the eruption continues the immediate overlying ice is all consumed, and without that the magma will flow as more conventional lava. The reducing availability of ice and water, even as the magma continues to flow, means that the problems that the ash cloud generates may be more transient than last year, where European airspace was closed for a week.

The threat to European Airspace 23 May 2011 (flight radar 24)

The cloud, which has closed Icelandic air space, is now approaching the UK, and has already caused President Obama to move his trip to the UK forward a day , so as not to be at risk from flying through the cloud. At present the cloud is close to Scotland, and it is expected that that airlines will cancel flights to affected airports. Some already have and the effects of the eruption could soon spread into Europe. However, with the changing ash size, as the water and ice is all used up, so there is hope that the ash plumes will decrease in size, and that Iceland may be able to open some airports as soon as tomorrow.

UPDATE: The picture above was taken late in the evening of the 23rd, the following picture is at around noon in the UK on the 24th, and flights are already being cancelled as the cloud becomes too dense at certain altitudes for planes to fly.

One of the questions, however, is as to whether the volcano may change from issuing from a single vent into a situation where the magma finds a second channel, which would put the second outlet back under ice, and give a secondary ash cloud. This might then spread south, giving a more continuous problem that would extend over time. The extrusion of magma from a series of vents along a fissure line is characteristic of the Laki eruptions which lie to the south of the current site.

While the impact of that natural event continues to unfold, the disaster in Joplin was there and gone in almost no time, with winds of up to 198 mph. I looked out of my window 150 miles East of there last night, and saw a storm coming in, gave it no more thought and went to bed. This morning I awoke to hear that 89 people had died, (now updated to 116) and that about a third of the city of 50,000 was destroyed. It is a city where many off the folk that work at KMT, a waterjet manufacturer in Baxter Springs KS, live and these include a number that have graduated and worked with me at MO S&T. Sadly I have heard already that three that I know as friends have lost their homes and all that they possess, and that of the six employees of the firm who did lose their homes, one also lost his wife.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight.


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