How often should we expect volcanic ash clouds over Europe?

In 2010, an ash cloud from an eruption at Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano led to the most disruptive shutdown of North Atlantic and European airspace in aviation history. Given the high level of activity of Iceland’s more than two dozen active volcanoes, how often are such events to be expected? A new study comparing volcanic ash records over the last 1,000 years suggests that fallout over Europe may be more common than previously anticipated.

17 May 2017

An economic argument for reframing the geoscientist's role in disaster mitigation

Geoscientists don’t often weigh in on the long-term societal implications of the natural disasters they study — but perhaps they should. Thinking about disasters in the same way economists do might help them do more good.
14 May 2017

Bare Earth Elements: Tour brings hurricane hunting aircraft and expertise to the masses

With hurricane season officially getting under way on May 15 in the Eastern Pacific and June 1 in the Atlantic, NOAA has been busy this week publicizing National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which aims to inform the public about what they can do to prepare for potentially damaging and life-threatening storms. This year, the agency is simultaneously hosting its annual Hurricane Awareness Tour, a week-long traveling exhibition starring hurricane hunting aircraft and their crews. EARTH's Tim Oleson dropped by the tour stop in Washington, D.C., on May 9 to check it out and talk with Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center.

11 May 2017

Investigating erionite, asbestos' more carcinogenic cousin

Asbestos is notorious for causing lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, but it’s not the only type of fibrous mineral that affects human health. In the mid-1970s, erionite was linked to the unprecedented high mortality rate from mesothelioma in villages in central Turkey where volcanic tuff had been used as a building material for centuries. Like asbestos, erionite can occur as long thin fibers that, when inhaled, can persist in lung tissue for decades. New research looking at associations of iron with erionite is helping pathologists better understand why embedded erionite fibers sometimes lead to lung cancer.

08 May 2017

Tallying temperature drops inside tornadoes

The inside of a strong tornado is an intense place, with wind speeds of more than 450 kilometers per hour and dramatic drops in air pressure and temperature. But due to the dangerous unpredictability of such storms, few real-time measurements have been taken inside actual twisters. In a new study, researchers took a mathematical approach to circumvent the danger and calculate temperature changes inside tornadoes, offering a glimpse into how these violent storms operate.

24 Apr 2017

Of airplanes and ash clouds: What we've learned since Eyjafjallajökull

The havoc created when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted in 2010 and closed trans-Atlantic and northern European airspace for days also created research opportunities. Scientists, engineers and the airline industry have been working together to figure out how to keep the aviation system going when volcanic ash can’t be avoided.
02 Apr 2017

Warning: Ash Ahead!

One of the next-generation tactics being pursued by engineers is the use of ash-sensing equipment installed on airplanes that could warn of an ash cloud ahead and allow pilots time to adjust their flight path to avoid the cloud. “If you’re driving a car and you see a hazard up ahead, you can navigate around it,” says Fred Prata of the University of Oxford in England. “Every aircraft has radar equipment with which [pilots] can see weather systems and fly around them. This is the same concept, but adapted to image volcanic ash.”

02 Apr 2017

Ash vs. airplanes

Between 1953 and 2009,* there were 129 reported incidents of airplane-ash encounters, with 79 of those causing some degree of airframe or engine damage. Twenty-six involved significant or severe damage, and nine involved some degree of engine shutdown during flight. Most of the encounters occurred within 24 hours of the onset of ash production during an eruption and within 1,000 kilometers of the source volcano. All flights landed safely.

02 Apr 2017

Benchmarks: March 11–13, 1888: The Great Blizzard of 1888 Paralyzes New York City

On Tuesday, March 13, 1888, the streets of New York City were nearly unrecognizable. What had been well-lit homes and storefronts, bustling with shoppers, families, workers and businessmen just two days before, now looked like a frozen battlefield, pummeled by a blizzard whose force had taken the city by surprise. The streets were clogged with deep snow and debris from signs, broken wires, downed poles, trees, and carts that had been abandoned as people fled to shelter. The few people who were out stumbled through deep snow drifts, fighting against a brutal icy wind; some never made it to safety.

11 Mar 2017

Gravity changes may warn of large earthquakes

Large earthquakes alter the planet’s gravitational field by displacing big portions of the crust. In a new study looking at earthquake-induced gravity signals produced by Japan’s magnitude-9 Tohoku quake in 2011, researchers conclude that such signals may prove useful in earthquake early warning systems.

10 Mar 2017