The Eyjafjallajokull Volcano

Posted: Apr 19, 2010 8:28 AM
The Eyjafjallajokull Volcano

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland is difficult to spell, but is pronounced, "Ed." The way to remember how to spell it is to put your forefinger on the top row of your computer keyboard, count over three keys, then drag your finger to the other end of the row.

All right, none of that is true, but it is true that the volcano blowing its top in Iceland has driven European travel back 70 years to the early days of World War II. That was one of the last times when large numbers of people couldn't get from where they were to where they wanted to go.

There are tens of thousands of people stranded in places they don't want to be. Granted, being stranded in London for a week isn't the same as being stuck in Fallujah or Mazar-i-Sharif, but if you don't want to be there; you are still stuck.

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A friend of mine is, indeed, stuck in London. We discussed the notion her getting to Casablanca. Then, if she could get her hands on some Letters of Transit at Rick's Café Americaine, she might make her way back to Portugal and then to the U.S.

For those who may not have been following this, Iceland is, according to the BBC, "a volcanic hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - the dividing line between the Eurasian and North American continental plates."

You know how the Hawaiian Islands were formed (and are still being formed) by undersea volcanoes? Well, think of Iceland as Hawaii without the palm trees.

Iceland has 35 active volcanoes. One of them, Eyjafjallajokull, is considered to be a minor player in the Volcanic orchestra of Iceland, but the last time it erupted (December 1821) it lasted for 13 months.

While Eyjafjallajokull isn't doing any real damage in Iceland, it is doing enormous damage everywhere else. That's because every route of flight from just about anywhere in Europe or the Middle East to the U.S. of A. has to go through the ash cloud that - can't we just call it "Ed?" - Volcano Ed is spewing.

I know you've heard this term before: A Great Circle Route. In navigating around the Earth (or any globe), the shortest distance between two points is a great circle, which is defined as "a circle that runs along the surface of a sphere so as to cut it into two equal halves. It is the largest circle that can be drawn on a given sphere."

I found a great circle route calculator (which I have posted on the Secret Decoder Ring Page) which allows you to chart a great circle route between any two airports - London Heathrow (LHR) and New York (JFK) for instance - which will help you visualize the problem.

We have become so dependent upon air travel that when a major route is take out of the equation, Americans can't get out of Europe and Europeans can't get home from America. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being lost by people unable to get to where they need to be and it is unclear when this situation will abate.

Aside from a boat, the only way to get from London to the U.S. is to take a train to Rome, fly to Hong Kong, then across the Pacific to the U.S. Unfortunately the trains have been jammed with Europeans trying to get from country to country because they can't fly.

Although it seems like Mother Earth is cranky with us, what with all those earthquakes and volcanoes, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey: "Since 1900, an average of 16 magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes - the size that seismologists define as major - have occurred worldwide each year. With six major earthquakes striking in the first four months of this year, 2010 is well within the normal range."

One last thing about volcanoes. All that ash and sludge they push into the atmosphere tends to stay there for a while.

According to San Diego State University, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it shoved so much Sulfur Dioxide into the atmosphere that the Earth's temperature dropped an average two degrees for two years.

The strongest volcanic eruption in the past 1,000 years is believed to have been Mt. Tamborain Indonesia in April of 1815. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The eruption of Mt. Tambora cast a veil of ash around the world, lowering global temperatures by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The result was the "year without a summer" in 1816."

A couple of decent volcanoes per decade and our global warming problem would appear to be solved.

Get me Al Gore on the phone.

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