Scientists Outline Volcanic Ash Risks to Aviation



[1] The ash clouds that belched out of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano last spring and dispersed over much of Europe, temporarily paralyzing aviation, were vast smoke signal warnings about the hazard that volcanic ash poses for air traffic around the world. At a 15 December news briefing at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, two experts with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) presented an overview of the damage airplanes can sustain from rock fragment– and mineral fragment–laden ash, an update on efforts to mitigate the hazard of ash, and an outline of further measures that are needed to address the problem. Between 1953 and 2009, there were 129 reported encounters of aircraft with volcanic ash clouds, according to a newly released USGS document cited at the briefing. The report, “Encounters of aircraft with volcanic ash clouds: A compilation of known incidents, 1953–2009,” by Marianne Guffanti, Thomas Casadevall, and Karin Budding, indicates that 26 encounters involved significant damage to the airplanes; nine of those incidents resulted in engine shutdown during flight. The report, which does not focus on the effects on airplanes of cumulative exposure to dilute ash and does not include data since 2009, indicates that “ash clouds continue to pose substantial risks to safe and efficient air travel globally.”