Iceland Ash Did Pose Hazard | May 2, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 18 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 18 | p. 28 | Concentrates
Issue Date: May 2, 2011

Iceland Ash Did Pose Hazard

Analysis of particles supports aviation officials’ decision to ground flights after last year’s volcanic eruption
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: atmospheric chemistry, nanoscience, volcano, Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull
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Gíslason (left) and Alfredsson collected ash, which upon inspection by SEM revealed tiny ash specks on larger ash particles.
Credit: Ómar Óskarsson (photo); NanoGeoScience group, U of Copenhagen (micrograph)
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Gíslason (left) and Alfredsson collected ash, which upon inspection by SEM revealed tiny ash specks on larger ash particles.
Credit: Ómar Óskarsson (photo); NanoGeoScience group, U of Copenhagen (micrograph)
A plume of ash rises from the volcano, which is capped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, as seen on April 14, 2010.
Credit: Árni Sæberg
8918scic1iceandplum
 
A plume of ash rises from the volcano, which is capped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, as seen on April 14, 2010.
Credit: Árni Sæberg

Nanoscale scrutiny of ash that spewed from an Icelandic volcano last year reveals that the tiny particles were uncommonly sharp and abrasive—and likely would have spelled trouble for aircraft in their path (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015053108). Aviation officials in Europe “were right to close the airspace when they did,” says study leader Susan L. S. Stipp, a geochemist at the University of Copenhagen. Her colleagues Sigurdur R. Gíslason and Helgi A. Alfredsson from the University of Iceland collected ash about 35 miles from the crater as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano was erupting. A combination of techniques, including scanning electron microscopy, revealed that ash from the early stages of the explosive eruption was exceptionally fine and sharp and remained so even after being stirred in water in the lab for two weeks to simulate exposure to rain or fog. Stipp notes that abrasiveness isn’t the only potential problem; the small particle size makes it easier for ash to melt and potentially clog parts of jet engines. The team hopes their protocol for characterizing ash will aid risk assessment during future eruptions.

 
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