Animated picture – The Icelandic Volcanic ash dispersing a giant plume over Europe at 10m/s (April 14-18, 2010). [NERI – National Environment Research Institute – Denmark, link] (via @PattersonClark)

“… dicen que los últimos deseos de Islandia eran que desparramen sus cenizas por Europa“, Martin Varsavsky (@martinvars via @fernand0), establishing an indirect and ironic association with the current Volcano status, and the recent Icelandic economic collapse and bankruptcy.

Ashes will be here to stay among us for a while. Maybe during several weeks, or entire months. The surrounding  ice at the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano crater will simple catalyse and reinforce the whole  ash plume effect, not diminished it.  Have you ever tried to cease a camp fire with water?! Besides, Katla, a much bigger Volcano, is just on the neighbourhood. But instead, looking back at the present camp fire you may ask why ashes are travelling East, not West. Unfortunately, due to the Coriolis effect, while Earth spins, the winds move to the right in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere, so Europe is the target, instead of the North Atlantic sea, a air travel nightmare outcome travelling East 10 meters at each second, by far with major economic consequences. People crowded into chaotic Airports, will be recurrent. On the other hand, if the Poniente SW winds keep blowing into the Iberian peninsula as they are in the last days as typical above the Tropic of Cancer  specially over this region, here’s my rule of thumb: Barajas Airport [MAD] in Madrid will soon be a major world hub for air traffic. Possibly along with Lisbon,  they will be the unique safe air travel entries for the old Continent, and the singular gateways to arrive in South America, Africa,  the Indian subcontinent, Asia and United States. That is: A whole continent connected to the rest of a massive networked world via a unique critical node.

Fig. – Ash Cloud – Projected relative concentration levels / April 18, 8 p.m. E.D.T. (A list of European airports that have been affected by a cloud of ash from the erupting volcano in Iceland). (New York Times – Source: Jørgen Brandt, Senior Scientist, National Environmental Research Institute at Aarhus University, Denmark)

As – on one side – more ashes will pop-up from the ice Eyja Island (Iceland), and – on the other side – an increasing economic and social pressure for opening possibilities to establish a communication with the rest of the world will be a requirement, a dilemma will rise and surge in the upcoming times: shall we flight or not?  A  pure dilemma between safety and fluidity. I defend the later, but not at  any cost. Naturally, airline companies are suffering a lot. Some estimate that this air ban is costing airlines a reported £150 million a day. And probably the first sign of this dilemma appeared today, when some European airliners pressured EU countries for opening their airspaces, alleging they were doing safety tests in the middle of the ash, thus trying to transfer -one of these days- their own risks onto a whole  pack of air travellers.  According to them, everything was OK on their tests (was it? – well, hell not, according to the credulous holy mighty Pope). While the Portuguese President is travelling by bus, and Pope by train, next, they will probably try to profit from the initial social frustration upon the natural phenomena and people’s legitimise need and urgency for fluidity, in order to open airspace. Instead, working on the field, for long they should have adopted insurance policies, in order to protect their normal airliner activity against airborne peak cases like these. A phenomena, with which, they are well acquainted.

Science, once again, could be crucial. If we cannot avoid the ash cloud, we could still try to dribble it – on a daily basis. And by “we”, I mean people and airliner companies. Simulated tracking models will be part of the answer. Namely, Volcanic ash tracking models. I leave you with a 2002 scientific paper [1], critical for the current times (PDF file link below). If you are facing  the  “shall we flight or not?” dilemma, then, do not miss at least the whole introduction. It starts with “Volcanic ash floating and travelling is a great concern to airline pilots”. Among other things, historic cases might pop-up your head as a revelation.

Oh, … and if you are also still wondering as I did, what the word Eyjafjallajökull means, here is a clue. Indeed, it’s quite simple. We just need to divide it, at the right place, up into 3 Icelandic common words: “Eyja” is the Icelandic word for island. “Fjalla” means mountain. And finally, “Jökull” is glacier. Though, don’t ask me for their pronunciation.

[1] H.L. Tanaka, Kazumi Yamamoto; “Numeric Simulation of Volcanic Plume dispersal from Usu Volcano on Japan in 31 March 2000 using PUFF model”, Earth Planets Space Journal, 54, pp. 743-752, 2002. (PDF)

photo – Lightning visible in the plume of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland on April 17, 2010. Image of Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson. (source: Universe Today).