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Transportation Science

Volcano Futures 284

Now that the volcanic ash cloud is easing off from Europe and airports are re-opening, it's time to look ahead a bit. The first question is, will the Eyjafjallajökull (.OGG) volcano's ash cloud visit the US? According to Discovery News, the answer is: not likely. This article also provides good current answers, as best scientists know, to other questions such as "How long will this volcano keep erupting?" (could be months), and "Will the ash cloud cause cooling in Europe?" (nope). New Scientist looks at the question of whether planes can fly safely through volcanic ash clouds — and concludes there's a lot we don't know. "Ever since a Boeing 747 temporarily lost all four engines in an ash cloud in 1982, the International Civil Aviation Organization has stipulated that skies must be closed as soon as ash concentration rises above zero. The ICAO's International Airways Volcano Watch uses weather forecasting to predict ash cloud movements, and if any projections intersect a flight path, the route is closed. But although it is certain that volcanic ash like that hanging over northern Europe can melt inside a jet engine and block airflow, nobody has the least idea about just how much is too much. After a week of losing millions every day, airlines are starting to ask why we can't do better."
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Volcano Futures

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  • Space programs (Score:5, Informative)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @11:57PM (#31918498)
    Every time people ask why we fund the space agencies, here is your answer. The majority of the data we DO have in this situation is from downlooking satellites from ESA and NASA.The The Deep Space Climate Observatory was mothballed for almost a decade and yet it has sensors on it that could be helping significantly with measuring ash density source []. There are several other vehicles that can help significantly with this and other problems that cost many, many times the project cost, but all people see is the big number at the end of each budget, not the benefits.
  • 1783 (Score:5, Informative)

    by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:27AM (#31918702)
    It seems amazing that we have avoided something like the 1783 eruption that lasted for two years and killed over a hundred thousand. Can you imagine air traffic disrupted for years? BTW, the same thing could happen to us from the Aleutians.
  • Re:.OGG (Score:3, Informative)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:44AM (#31918770) Journal

    It's linked from Wikipedia and they only accept Vorbis/Theora.

  • Re:Design (Score:5, Informative)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:47AM (#31918788) Homepage

    Notice that the threat is real - the Finnish air force did get engine damage on their F18:s when they were flying through the cloud. Just take a look here: Finnish F-18 engine check reveals effects of volcanic dust []

    And we must blame Top Gear [] for the eruption too.

  • by mukund ( 163654 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:53AM (#31918828) Homepage
    This ash cloud from the Iceland volcano has caused engine damage []. I wonder if airlines are throwing caution away to avoid the daily loss in business.
  • Re:Design (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:59AM (#31918852)

    Yeah, totally. Sand particles are a lot bigger (the volcanic ash particles are around one micron in diameter), so they tend not to occur very far above ground level and are less prone to melting in the engine.

  • Re:Katla (Score:3, Informative)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:15AM (#31918902)

    Global warming and volcanoes are related.

    What's your source for this?

    Google. Try it yourself, sometime. It would take about as much time as the post you wrote to get started.

  • Re:Design (Score:5, Informative)

    by txoof ( 553270 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:36AM (#31918962) Homepage

    I keep hearing from various media about "dire economic impacts" and such. I don't recall the nautical shipping industry panicking like this over the fact that they can't reasonably send ships through a hurricane, and those happen much more frequently than volcanic eruptions of this magnitude. I get the impression that the rarity of this event that the airliners should be thankful for is also the very reason they are overreacting to it.

    The problem is that we have become dependent on the 'ready today' ability to move people and goods around the world. Sixty years ago there was no FedEX overnight service that you could reliably depend on. The 1950s Tulip sellers in Holland sold their tulips to customers within a few tens of kilometers of their fields. Today, there are huge international shipping operations that depend on being able to ship those same tulips half-way around the world in less than 36 hours. Florists in Kenya [] are losing an estimated USD $2 million every day sitting on product that is literally rotting before their eyes.

    I'm sure you can find many more examples of industry that is time sensitive and losing out due to this problem. Some examples that come quickly to mind are factories that depend on regular replenishment of components. There is a trend for smaller fabrication houses to stock only enough product to complete a fixed amount of orders. It's more economically reasonable for these small houses to stock only what they need and overnight or 2day more parts as they need them than to stock an indefinite supply. These companies are sitting idle and unable to fulfill contracts. The economic loss that potentially creates is huge. Imagine for a second the cost in lost future contracts, late penalties and loss of sales for a company who's model depends on being able to ship items around the world in less than two days. Now multiply that by all the countries that ship to, from and over europe. That's starting to get expensive.

    Don't forget about all the stranded people that aren't getting their work done either. I'm staying at a hotel in Norway right now and I'm surrounded by oil industry people that are stuck here, trying to get back to the UK, France and the USA. They're trying their best to do their work, but there's only so much you can do from a lappy in the hotel loby. You can bet those folks are costing their companies some serious down time. Not only are they not doing their work, they're costing the company money staying in the expensive hotel, eating expensive food. That adds up over 7 million estimated stranded people.

    Then there's the the airlines that are already hurting due to bad management, expensive fuel and a struggling economy. They have labor contracts they are obliged to fulfill. Just because their employees aren't flying and servicing, they're still entitled to their salaries. Loan and bond payments are still due even when 90% of your aircraft are sitting at an airport taking up space. You can bet every municipality that runs an airport is still expecting the airlines to pay their airport leases and gate fees even though no passengers are flying. Sum all that up and you're WAY in the red for this month.

    Shipping is a slightly different ball game. When you put your stuff on a boat and ship it to Norway from New Orleans (we just did this a few weeks ago), you expect it to arrive at some point in the future. You don't expect it to arrive today, or on 28 April. You expect it to arrive at some point within 6-12 weeks (that's what the shipping company quoted). If you build your business model around that type of speed, you build it very differently. You can bet that a company that relies on shipped goods over airfreight has a much bigger buffer of raw materials and product. When a boat is delayed due to hurricane, crowded port, or whatever, it has an impact, but a much smaller impact. You can bet that a steel mill doesn't rely

  • by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:47AM (#31919016)

    It's not just the airline bean counters who are worried about this. I'm being directly affected. I was in Europe for work, and was supposed to fly back to the US last Sun. I've been stuck here since. I'm quite desperate to get back home and back to my life.

    It may seem cool to be stuck in Europe, but in actuality it's not. It feels semi-prison like in that I'm stuck in a place (albeit a very nice, historical and cultural one) and unable to get home. Things are going on at work, with friends, family and I'm all the way over here spending money like crazy because everything costs more when traveling (hotels, meals, phone calls, hotel internet charges, etc). I'm just lucky because I was traveling for work and can expense. I've met others here who aren't so lucky (one forms a sense of camaraderie with other stranded passengers on meets).

    And it's a lot of other industries and businesses too. The world is incredibly interconnected.

    The main complaint isn't from some bean counters trying to override safety. It's that a blanket ban is just unrealistic and misinformed. There has to be somewhere between NO FLIGHTS and NORMAL. What is it? Are there safe corridors? Are there certain types of planes that can fly? Are there certain elevations? Noone knows, and worse yet, noone is really tracking the ACTUAL ash cloud, it's all just computer models predicting. Let's see where the damned thing actually is.

    Those are some of the complaints the airlines, and now us passengers who've been glued to the news for almost a week, are wondering.

    The fact that so many flights flew ok yesterday indicates that the whole situation wasn't carefully thought through. Look, I'm all for putting safety first. If there is a good chance I'll die flying, I'll agree to be stuck in Europe for another month until it's safe. But, please can we first make sure it really is that dangerous?

  • Re:Design (Score:5, Informative)

    by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:50AM (#31919022)

    Even if prop planes were unaffected, no-one makes a prop plane with more than a hand-full of seats, all larger prop planes are actually turboprops which would likely have the same problems as jets.

  • Re:Design (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:42AM (#31919238)
    It is not only the airlines that are suffering - lots of industries depend on just in time shipping of parts per airfreight. The BMW production lines in Germany are shut down as of today, with 56000 workers on forced vacation. Electronic parts for new cars all get airlifted these days. BMW also can't get gear parts to their US facilities. The overall impact is quite huge indeed.
  • by ridgecritter ( 934252 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:21AM (#31919392)
    Thanks for posting the link to the Finnish F-18 engine photos. The airborne dust is clearly accreting in molten globs on hot section parts. These mixed oxide/silicate blobs may react with hot section materials - not sure what the specific materials are in the F-18 engines, but they're commonly nickel-based superalloys, often with ceramic thermal barrier coatings. I think the volcanic material might form eutectic (lower melting point) compounds with either the thermal barrier coatings or the underlying alloys. This won't cause outright engine failure, but it could easily lead to accelerated blade or combuster erosion, requiring more frequent maintenance. It will also degrade fuel efficiency. Not such a big impact on military flight operations, as they will have little trouble getting extra funding for this unforseeable circumstance, but the airlines will see additional maintenance requirements eat very quickly into their bottom lines. AFAIK, there's not much of a database on turbine engine degradation modes due to long-term flight through sub-micron volcanic dust.
  • Re:Conversely -- (Score:3, Informative)

    by JLangbridge ( 1613103 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:30AM (#31919422) Homepage
    It isn't only about the engines; BA 009 did suffer engine failure over 20 years ago, and they managed to restart all their engines and land, but the incident didn't stop at the engines. On final approach, they also found out that they could hardly see outside. Once they landed (doing an instrument landing), they also found out that all the attack surfaces had been sandblasted; the wings, the tail, but also the windshield. Flying through microscopic particles of stone or glass isn't just a danger for the engines.
  • Re:Design (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dr_Terminus ( 1222504 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:41AM (#31920076)

    NASA also has a very thorough and interesting report from their DC8's encounter with a diffuse ash cloud in 2000. Its pretty insidious stuff - building up in the turbine blade cooling channels - stuff that wouldnt even be detected without a major engine inspection like NASA undertook. []

  • Re:Here's some links (Score:3, Informative)

    by Troed ( 102527 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @07:12AM (#31920600) Homepage Journal

    Gizmodo should really update their article since their source has been forced to recant. []

    (Do note that the graph still doesn't fully reflect their actual text from yesterday's update)

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