The erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland, which has intermittently disrupted European air traffic since 14 April, provided a dramatic backdrop for the recent European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, about 2700 kilometers to the east. EGU organized several last-minute conference sessions about the eruption, and a number of scientists, including some from Iceland, discussed the latest situation, monitoring and assessment needs, and new guidance about flying through volcanic ash, which volcanologist and incoming EGU president-elect Donald Dingwell of the University of Munich, Germany, called “one of the ugliest cocktails nature throws up.”

Although the eruption was small compared with those at Mount St. Helens in 1980 or Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the event produced an estimated 0.1±0.05 cubic kilometer of tephra between 14 and 16 April, according to preliminary numbers from the Institute of Earth Sciences in Reykjavik, Iceland (see the related news item in this issue). An enormous amount of ash from the eruption got lofted into the jet stream toward the United Kingdom and the European mainland. European air traffic controllers, operating under the best guidance and guidelines available at that time—which indicated no flying in ash—shut down European air space to avoid a potential catastrophe if ash clogged up an aircraft's engines.