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When volcanoes erupt, lava flows are what concern many people. But as air traffic increases, some scientists at agencies in the U.S. and abroad—including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and NASA—also are focusing on how to avoid costly and potentially deadly problems that can arise from volcanic ash clouds.

The clouds can rise into the cruise altitude of aircraft and can affect traffic thousands of kilometers away from a volcano, as wind carries the ash. The ash can ruin planes, and cause loss of thrust and even flameouts. It also can slicken runways and damage planes on the ground.