The Icelandic volcano and weather

If you’re in the UK then I’m sure you’ve heard about the Icelandic volcano.  Its caused a shutdown of airspace in the UK as well as in Scandanavia and Holland because volcanic ash doesn’t mix well with aircraft engines.  The satellite image below shows the plume as of 10am on 15th April:

I just saw an interesting volcanologist on BBC News 24 explaining why this volcano is producing so much ash.  Apparently it’s because this volcano is beneath a glacier and this has led to the explosive eruptions that have sent the ash high into the atmosphere (up to the stratosphere).  An eruption from another Icelandic volcano earlier this month didn’t produce any problems as it wasn’t under a glacier and resulted in lava flows.  [Update: here’s a blog post about subglacial eruptions by a proper geologist.]

The interesting volcanologist also said that these eruptions can last anything from hours to years!

So it could be down to the weather to sort this one out.  The Met Office have issued a plot showing the location of the plume at 6am on 15th April.

If we take a look at the weather charts, we’re in a region of high pressure at the moment and this is drawing the ash south eastwards at the moment:

There’s not a lot of change tomorrow either so I doubt things will be much different then:

The high pressure moves eastwards a bit on Saturday so that may clear things away but I wouldn’t bank on it:

So it could be a while before the atmospheric circulation clears this ash away to make it safe for aviation.

On the plus side, this large injection of particles (aerosols) into the atmosphere could result in some really colouful sunsets – here’s an example – or even a blue moon.  These particle clouds can catch the light from the setting Sun at different heights to normal sunsets and this can be really beautiful!

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7 Responses to “The Icelandic volcano and weather”

  1. Jack Kelly Says:

    Will this eruption dampen 2010’s chances for being the hottest year on record? It sounds like it’s too small an eruption to have a measurable effect on global temperature, is that correct?

  2. Gonrod Says:

    Right Andy, I’m stuck in the US, and have just rebooked my flights for Weds. What do you think my chances are? If less than 50%, feel free to lie to me.


    • andyrussell Says:

      Hi Gonrod

      I’ve no idea how the Met Office and CAA are going to decide that it’s safe. However, the way thing are looking, the ash should clear in the west first so you’d think transatlantic flights would be safe before European ones. I expect that this is way too simple an analysis though!

      We’ve been picking the plume up in some of our instruments though and it’s descending quite quickly now. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t get replaced with new emissions.

      Feel like I’m not being much help…

  3. Jim Vincent Says:

    My wife and I are thinking of vacationing in Scotland, Ireland, British Isles in late summer or early fall this year. Is there any expectations re: the effect of the Icelandic volcano eruption upon weather in these areas?

    Jim Vincent

    • andyrussell Says:

      Hi Jim

      This isn’t really my area of expertise but after some big eruptions (e.g. Pinatubo in 1991) the following summer is a bit cooler than would normally be expected. This is because the eruption puts lots aerosol particles (like sulphur dioxide) into the stratosphere. This reflects away some of the incoming solar radiation so its a bit cooler.

      That said, I doubt you’re going to Iceland and Scotland for the sunshine!

      I suppose there’s also a small chance that the volcano might still be erupting in the late summer so I assume that that would make the local environment unpleasant if you’re downstream. I have no idea if there are any reliable predictions of how long the volcano will be emmiting though.



  4. Emanuel Kampman Says:

    I hope things will start to settle down. I am sure it will be years before we know the health consequences of the ash.

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