Friday, April 16

Volcanoes, ash and aviation

Who would have thought that an Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajökull could disrupt all airline traffic in western Europe?

14.04.2010 The farm Thorvaldseyri (Þorvaldseyri) today.
It lies on the south side of the volcano and glacier Eyjafjallajökull (1666 m).
The farmer, Ólafur Eggertsson, took the picture.



I doubt that the Icelandic volcanoes are a sign of the apocalypse. If they are, we're on a very slow countdown. But it's an interesting collision of a very old, natural, geological phenomena and modern life.

Eyjafjallajökull has been around since the Ice Age and there are recorded eruptions in 920 and 1612. The last time it was active was in 1821, an eruption that lasted two years.
Think about it. That's once when the Vikings were kicking ass* in Normandie and the UK, once in the year that Galileo Galilei first lays his eyes on the planet Neptune (he thought it was a star but I'm not gonna hold that against him) and once at the time the first photograph was taken.

Back in 920, 1612 and 1820 most people didn't travel very far from their homes. Boats and horses were used to get around. The 1820's are the decade of steam engines and the dawn of rail transport. Something tells me that volcanic ash from Iceland didn't cause much disruption to transportation back in the day.

The Wright brothers built their first aircraft in 1903, almost 80 years after Eyjafjallajökulls eruption. My nearest airport, Kastrup in Copenhagen, opened in 1925 with a grass runway.

From then on, aviation has developed at an amazing speed.
When my grandparents were young they traveled by boat or railway. My paternal grandmother's cousins who emigrated to the US in the 1920's or 1930's traveled by Ocean liner.
In the late 1960's my mother, then in her late teens, went on holiday with her parents on a chartered jet. My grandfather traveled internationally for work, so he took the family abroad on a few occasions.
When I was in my teens I had visited the UK several times, been on holiday in the US, Sicily, the Netherlands and one or two holiday resorts in the Mediterranean.

Today it seems like every Swede has been on holiday to Thailand at least once, air travel is as glamorous as traveling by train and we expect to be able to go anywhere, whenever we want. Until an Icelandic volcano decided to wake up and stop everything.

Nobody knows how long the ash cloud will disrupt air traffic in western Europe. It might be back to normal in a few days, or we could have even more ash floating about. For where Eyjafjallajökull has gone in the past, the neighbouring Katla has followed.

I hope that the ash cloud clears up and drifts away soon. A year or two of no jetplanes combined with a need to cut down on fossil fuel might just catapult us all into steampunk.
Rocketeer jetpack, anyone?

Promotional poster for the 1991 movie Rocketeer.


*A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine!
A phrase supposedly heard in monasteries in the UK before the Vikings came around for some pillaging. Loosely translated as: From the rage of the Northmen, save us, gracious Lord God!

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