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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

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

Road salt may be a larger problem for lakes than thought

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that approximately 30 million tons of road salt were applied to U.S. roads during 2015 to speed up the melting of snow and ice. Recently, scientists have observed increasing impacts on ecosystems and water quality linked to its application. New research, for example, finds that road salt influx is geochemically disrupting the ecosystem health of urban lakes in Michigan, and it may even lead to rising methane emissions from the lakes.

19 Jan 2017

Sand shouldn't stand in for volcanic ash in jet engine tests

In 2010, the ash cloud produced by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano grounded trans-Atlantic and European flights for six days due to fears that the high-flying ash could damage — and stall — jet engines. The eruption, which snarled international air travel and led to billions in economic losses, spotlighted the need for more study of the effects of volcanic ash on jet engines. Many such studies have been done using sand as a convenient stand-in for ash. But a new study shows that some types of volcanic ash behave very differently from sand at high temperatures, suggesting sand is an inadequate analogue.

31 Jul 2016

Comment: Pipe Dreams: What have we learned from the Volkswagen Clean-Diesel scandal?

It came to light this fall that Volkswagen had emplaced so-called defeat devices in millions of clean-diesel cars, thus allowing the cars to pass emissions tests but still drive the way consumers wanted. Many questions remain, but the scandal has already provided important lessons about consumer behavior, markets and the temptation to cheat in this new era of environmental anxiety.

18 Nov 2015

Geologic Column: The 'impact factor' of potholes

Bumpily driving along one day last spring on a road that had been battered by a snowy winter in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic left the author pondering potholes — from a geologic perspective.

07 Oct 2015

Racing to the future of automotive efficiency and performance

High-performance, environmentally friendly race cars used in endurance races are serving as prototypes for the electric and hybrid cars that will soon make their ways to a car lot near you.
19 Jul 2015

New model predicts pumice drift patterns

In July 2012, the Havre volcano in the remote southwestern Pacific erupted, creating a raft of pumice that covered more than 400 square kilometers of ocean. Despite the raft’s massive size, the event went unreported for three weeks, until a passenger aboard a New Zealand-bound plane noticed the floating mass from above.

22 Aug 2014