A volcano in Iceland began erupting on April 14, creating an ash cloud that stretched 30,000 feet into the air and causing air traffic throughout northern and western Europe to be grounded. Aviation authorities halted flights for nearly a week over safety concerns; volcanic ash at high altitudes can get into a jet’s engines and could cause a crash. The air traffic shutdown in one of the busiest areas for aviation in the world was the most extensive in peacetime in history. After about one week, flights resumed, although the volcano still continued to be active.
The volcano is located under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier about 75 miles southeast of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. It had last erupted in the 1820s. At its highest the ash plume reached nearly six miles into the atmosphere. After successful test flights reassured officials, air travel began again, bringing relief to hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers. Also, the ash cloud ceased rising above 20,000 feet and thus was less of a threat to airplanes. Experts continue to keep an eye on Eyjafjallajokull’s neighboring volcano, Katla, which is considered much more potentially dangerous.
The grounding of airplanes was ordered by Eurocontrol, the agency that coordinates European flights. Airports in Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Poland the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland were shut down. The tens of thousands of cancellations included transatlantic flights to the United States. Heavy financial losses will result for both European and U.S. airlines, which faced not only a loss of revenue but also the cost of lodging and food for stranded passengers.
Image © Paul Souders/Corbis
- Volcano Eruption Halts Europe Flights
This article describes the expanding air-travel crisis caused by the Icelandic volcano’s eruption; includes a map of the ash plume, an interactive map showing effects on major airports, and a video describing how Iceland’s volcano disrupted European air travel.
(Source: Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2010)
- Iceland Volcano Eruption Causes Air Traffic Chaos
The Web site of the Discovery Channel, which also covers the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, includes far more about volcanoes worldwide and the science behind volcanic activity.
(Source: discovery.com, April 15, 2010)
- Iceland Volcano Spews Less Ash, Eruption Goes On
This Web page tracks the air traffic crisis as it unfolded; includes related stories such as on the environmental impact of the volcanic eruption.
(Source: Reuters, April 21, 2010)
- Iceland Volcano: Lightning Pictures and NASA Satellite Hot Spots
This Web page includes a photo gallery and videos of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano as well as satellite images from NASA.
(Source: Dallas Examiner, April 21, 2010)
Critical Thinking Questions
- Explain Describe when and how the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland affected air travel.
- Make Inferences How might interruptions of air travel in Europe impact people where you live?
- Form and Support Opinions Do you think that aviation authorities overreacted to the threat posed by the volcanic eruption?