Volcanoes, pandemics and crystal versus brass

The Icelandic volcanic eruption is still causing havoc in Europe with ripple effects elsewhere as people and planes are grounded for travel in or out of much of northern Europe. Pressure from the traveling public, air carriers and business is mounting to let passenger and cargo planes fly again. What's changed? Not much. There's about as much uncertainty as there was a week ago, just a lot more pushback. The recriminations are already starting: EU and national transport authorities "over reacted." They should have ... done what? At the same time airlines like Air France-KLM are conducting test flights to see if it's safe to fly planes with the traveling public through dust laden air corridors, and if so, which ones. So it sounds as if neither the authorities nor the airlines know the baseline answer: how risky is it to fly under the current conditions? We know volcanic dust can shut down airplane engines and score windshields to make them virually opaque. That's not theoretical. That has happened. Can it happen again to some planes under these conditions? And if so, which ones? No one seemed to know.

It's a lousy situation. No doubt. I'm glad I'm not stranded somewhere or missing an important personal or business event. It's hard to see, however, what the alternatives were or claim this is an "overreaction." As an aviation expert on one of the TV networks commented, "It's much better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, then in the air wishing you were on the ground."

I'm also glad I'm not tasked with making this kind of decision. And it calls to mind the recent tempest in a teapot over whether public health authorities "overreacted" to the swine flu pandemic. In both cases authorities were hampered by a lack of equipment: a Crystal Ball. The best their critics could offer later weren't made of crystal. They were brass.

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This catch 22 situation is again in the Limelight.

One thing is sure there is no future in Crystal Balls market.

In all seriousness, my concern is about the next Harvest since these kinds of eruptions are known to cool down temperature in the Northern Hemisphere as state in the History of Volcanic Ashes eruption and Harvest datas.

I really hope that ashes expulsion in the stratosphere stop as soon as possible.

âOne thing is sure there is no future in Crystal Balls market.â

Oh, there's a huge market there! The problem is, nobody's ever built a Crystal Ball⢠future prediction device.

@ James Davis

I live in Provinces not in States, but in 1971 I went to the altered State of U.S. called California.

I stared at the Crystal Ball⢠for 48 consecutive hours and I did came to conclusions.

The Crystal Ball⢠has no Future and I suspect that it is covered by an invisible ink that after a while reflect the fears and desires of the attendees.

On this scientific journey I even notice an patient attendee seing what he fear the most in the Crystal Ball⢠and sream full of Joy, Boy was I right.

Here in the South of France the sky is clear for the moment, a little bit of Mistral is blowing. I was reading in a book of mine that in 1783 another volcano( named Laki) erupted on the 9th of July in Iceland. All during the summer in England,Germany,Switzerland,France and Italy there was a dry fog that set in. It smelled fetide like sulfur and the fishermen in the bay of Naples didn't dare go out onto the water without a compass because visibility was so bad they were afraid that they wouldn't find their way back. And Snowy Owl, crops were adversely effected. After a month the fog persisted, and barley plants became brown and dried out at their extemities, and rye plants molded. The tips of pine's became discolored and cherry trees, peach trees and hazelnut trees suddenly lost all of their leaves. It also says that abruptly on the 28 of June (before the eruption evidently) all of the vegetation "got droopy" and all of the fruit fell off of the trees. The country side looked "desolated".....Looks like I'll be having fewer visiters this summer.

By Christine (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Christine thanks for recounting what happened in 1783. A while back this was in the news: "One way to curb global warming is to purposely shoot sulfur into the atmosphere, a scientist suggested today.... Injecting sulfur into the second atmospheric layer closest to Earth would reflect more sunlight back to space and offset greenhouse gas warming, according to Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego." http://www.livescience.com/environment/060727_inject_sulfur.html

Luckily so far no one has taken him up on this. We need sunlight and blocking it out would be a serious mistake as we are already somewhat hard put to feed all the 6+ billion humans on the planet. What we don't need is CO2 trapping the heat. We certainly don't need to add another chemical to the atmosphere.

Revere, I need your light on this please;

From Le Monde this morning, (Le Monde is a notorious and a newspaper considered very credible)

The Historian Emmanuel Garnier (CRHQ, CNRS-université de Caen,
déléguate to the Laboratory of climate and environment sciences(LSCE)stated;

Laki eruption (Iceland) from June 1783 to February 1784, was worst than the one we have now. In Islande, it's hell : 80 % of Sheeps and horses dies of fluorose, the sufuric présent in the fog attacked the respiratory system of the most frail people notably towards children of 1 to 8 years old. Sumortality in England was 30% above, 160 000 peoples estimate to have died from this in Europe alone.

Only afterwards famine got in and killed a lot more.

What can we expect in respiratory ailments from this eruption ?

Snowy: Predicting what a volcano will do and worse, its effects on climate, is as bad as predicting flu. However, as it now stands it is said that the effects on weather will not be severe or perhaps even noticeable and non at all on climate. If there is not much respirable dust (about 25% of this dust is respirable) at ground level (most is at about 30,000 feet) then there won't be much effect on people. Exceptions might be where there is a lot of dustfall, as in the UK. Experience with Mt. St. Helens showed some effects on people but not severe. So we'll have to see, but this does not look like the event in 1783 in either of those regards. Fluoride poisoning of livestock in Iceland might be an issue from the dust on vegetation, however.


It may not be appropriate to take the unfavorable, correct position and tout your brass balls. Many people believing that they were doing something righteous thought they had the unfavorable, correct position and pressed on.

In the case of uncertainty and cost/benefit, I hope that future politicians and public health officials look back to the way the swine flu pandemic was/is treated. Additionally, I think that the EU FAA (what are they called?) has taken the correct approach given history, current information, and cost/benefit.


you could let the market decide the risk.
Insurance companies make offers to insure
special flights. The best offer wins - if any.

@Revere: As soon as I heard on TV something like "incompetent authorities exaggerating again", I immediately thought of the stupid criticism of the WHO for the pandemic response. I also thought about the stupid criticism of climatologists for being wrong on some of their models. As anon (comment 11) pointed out, if some people feel like flying, they should be allowed to. The stupid criticisms would soon no longer be heard.

I'm rarely a cheerleader in comments. This entry deserves it because it points out how difficult it is to judge risk in a new, uncertain situation.

I'm interested in both vaccines/vaccination and airplane safety. I like watching the "Mayday" documentary series on TV. They did an episode on the 747 that lost power in all 4 engines from valconic ash. Fortunately, after dropping to a much lower altitude, they were able to restart the engines and landed safety.

Although it would be a great experiment in risks and risks management, I would prefer that the volcano stop sending up huge amounts of ash.