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Iceland Volcanic Ash May Halt UK Airspace again

Britain’s airspace could be forced to shut down completely this week after another volcano in Iceland erupted, spewing tons of ash into the air. It could mean a repeat of the massive travel disruption saw last April when much of Western Europe was effectively grounded due to the threat to aircraft engines.

Planes have already been halted on the North Atlantic island and a no fly zone of 120 miles (220km) around the summit is now in place. Officials say the ash could reach the northern parts of Scotland as early as midday on Tuesday. And if the eruption continues at the same intensity, it could spread to other parts of the UK, western France and northern Spain by Thursday or Friday.

Iceland’s main Keflavik international airport has already been forced to close – and other smaller airports are set to follow suit – as winds send ash cloud across the country. The island’s most active volcano, Grimsvotn, located at the heart of its biggest glacier Vatnajoekull, started to spew smoke and lava late on Saturday.

Within several hours, the plume of smoke had rose to an altitude of at least 12 miles (19km) – almost double the height of the nearby Eyjafjoell eruption just over a year ago which peaked at around 5.6 miles (9km). Meteorologists said the billowing smoke column had begun to taper on Sunday.

Dr Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist from The Open University, said a combination of its current intensity and unfavourable winds could see ash spread over the UK. He said such a high eruption column sends ash into the lower parts of the stratosphere – the area where commercial airliners cruise and also where the ash lingers for longer. He added that the past two Grimsvotn eruptions in 1998 and 2004 did not affect UK air travel.

“In addition, the experience gained from the 2010 eruption, especially by the Met Office, the airline industry, and the engine manufacturers, should mean less disruption to travellers,” he said. The Eyjafjoell eruption briefly forced 600 people from their homes but shut down large swathes of European airspace for almost a month amid fears the volcanic ash floating across the skies would wreak havoc on aircraft engines.

Last year’s eruption was the first volanco blast at the Eyjafjallajokull glacier since 1823, and Iceland’s first since 2004. Europe’s air traffic control organisation said it expected no impact on European or transatlantic flights for at least 24 hours following the latest blast. Eurocontrol said it was monitoring the situation as a plume of ash from the Grimsvotn volcano drifted towards the northeast.

“Aircraft operators are constantly being kept informed of the evolving situation,” the Brussels-based organisation said. Icelandic Meteorological Office geophysicist Gunnar Gudmundsson said while the Grismvotn burst was more severe than last year’s Eyjafjoell eruption, it was not expected to cause as much disruption. “I don’t expect this will have the same effect as Eyjafjoell volcano because the ash is not as fine,” he said. “I don’t think this will have much of an effect on international flights, or that it will shut down airports abroad.”

He said they would continue to monitor the movement of the plume.


Category: World News |

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Last updated March 25, 2017 at 5:40 PM
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