Friday, 21 May 2010

Volcanic Ash Cloud Disruption

As everybody is probably already well aware the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull began erupting on 20th March this year. Since then the resultant ash cloud has been intermittently interrupting flights across Europe. The last time this volcano erupted in 1821 it continued to do so for over a year fuelling speculations that the chaos will continue throughout the summer holiday season. UK research aircraft have been involved in a number of flights in an attempt to gain as much information as possible about this phenomenon. Initial flights were carried out by the NERC Dornier 228 Airborne Research and Survey Facility (ARSF) aircraft on the 15th and 16th April when layers of ash and sulphorous material were identified. Since then both the Dornier and the FAAM BAe-146 aircraft have been involved in further scientific flying to characterise the ash plume.

 Image from NASA's Terra satellite on May 11 at 12:15 UTC.The volcano is represented by a red rectangle. Credit: NASA Goddard / MODIS Rapid Response Team

Due to the importance of this activity and the potential duration of the eruptions the BORTAS campaign has been postponed until a similar period next year. But don't worry, that doesn’t mean that we have nothing to do for the next 12 months. Despite the absence of the aircraft the satellite data will be available and the ground-based measurements will still be going ahead. This means that we can still carry out the forecasts that will tell us where biomass burning plumes are likely to go, and see how well these predictions compare with what the instruments see. Modelling activities will also continue and so we will have plenty to report, and hopefully activities this summer will ensure that we are well prepared when the campaign comes around and allow any potential difficulties to be identified.

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