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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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  • Re:Space programs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:22AM (#31918670) Homepage

    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.

    Were the US satellites NASA or NOAA? (Or somebody else?)
    At least in the US, cutting funding for NASA will have less impact than you might think because they aren't sole [non military/intelligence] satellite operator the government has.

    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

    Certainly, if by 'help' you mean 'can say yes, there is ash, somewhere', sure. Triana's instruments are fairly low resolution in keeping with its vague and post facto 'science' goals. (This is compounded by it's extremely high orbit - far too high for useful science, excellent for it's original political goals.)

  • Re:Design (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @12:48AM (#31918798)

    That and anyway it is not often that so big ass clouds happen. So what if air travel stops for a day or two every 20 years? Honestly it doesn't justify spending billions to R&D on how to improve the plane designs for it.

  • Re:Design (Score:4, Interesting)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:02AM (#31918862)

    Maybe we can't do better because the design of a jet engine is to suck in as much air as possible with tiny blades, compress it, then spit it out at an extremely high temperature that happens to remelt ash?

    Is it safe to assume that prop planes are not affected by aerial concentrations of volcanic ash? If so, how difficult would it be for the airliner to rent/lease a fleet of prop planes for the duration of this problem? I realize that no prop plane is going to have the passenger capacity of a jumbo jet and that this is a far less than ideal solution. Still, in the face of losing "millions a day" or in terms of "it's either this option or you're stranded here", does it become better than nothing?

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:07AM (#31918870) Journal

    Honestly, losing millions a day? Do they want to invest a couple billion a year (if not a month) into testing every plausible (and some implausible) ash-to-air-to-engine-intake ratio for every commercial jetliner extant?

    I think you're confused about who "they" are.
    The airlines have never been in the business of testing anything.
    In this case "they" are the engine mfgs &/or the government.

    Since the MFGs are saying "don't use our engines under these conditions,"
    even if airports weren't shut down, no airline's insurance carrier would cover damage anyways.

  • Re:prop planes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @01:25AM (#31918916) Journal

    I believe you're right. However, we have a few thousand people trapped here in LA. Unfortunately, neither European rail nor Amtrak have yet built that tunnel under the Atlantic Ocean.

    Of course, if we build that bridge across the Bering Strait [wikipedia.org]...

  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattr@telebCOUGARody.com minus cat> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:33AM (#31919208) Homepage Journal

    From what I can tell via google,

    - Ash melts at 1100 degrees, below operating temperature of jet engines, and fuses into the engine
    - Windshields can be abraded so badly you cannot see out of them
    - Ash is dry and doesn't show up on radar, so new sensors are needed so pilots can discover it
    - There are no standards for how much ash is allowed or how to test aircraft against it.
    - Possibility that propellor planes and helicopters are safer

    So my conclusions for now are:
    - Need better rules, and government should pay for the experimentation
    - Need better intelligence, so we can be sure a route is safe
    - Need to examine flying propellor planes slowly at very low altitudes below the ash
    - Nobody has thought about ash bothering ground transportation. Does it?
    - Need alternative transportation
        o Trains, buses, boats
        o Slower aircraft.. hovercraft or balloons? (they still have engines though)
        o Need a closed engine design. (chemical or hydrogen powered electric closed engine?)
        o This is a common problem, more needs to be done for global transportation security. I even found a volcanic explosion in Japan yesterday at the ash advisory center, though it is not in the news at all.
    http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/svd/vaac/data/TextData/20100420_SAKU_0403_Text.html [jma.go.jp]

    http://www.pprune.org/rumours-news/412103-ash-clouds-threaten-air-traffic.html [pprune.org]
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/apr/15/volcanic-ash-bad-for-planes [guardian.co.uk]
    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?threadid=2055888944 [boards.ie]
    http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/VAAC/vaac.html [noaa.gov]

  • Re:Conversely -- (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jimthehorsegod ( 1210220 ) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @05:39AM (#31920068)
    Plus whilst they did restart all four engines, one failed again right afterwards anyway. There seems to be a hint of 'well even that incident turned out alright and there's less ash here now so it'll be fine' but the thing that made the remaining three engines OK whilst affecting number four was basically luck, for want of a better and more scientific term, and there's really no clear reason why whatever affected that fourth engine couldn't, didn't and wouldn't affect the others next time

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