Dramatic image of Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud

By Phil Plait | May 7, 2010 6:27 am

Some volcanoes just don’t know when to stop. Like Eyjafjallaj√∂kull:


[Click to envulcanate.]

This image is from NASA’s Terra satellite, and was taken on May 6 (yesterday). The border of Iceland is outlined, and you can see the ash plume carries on for hundreds of kilometers. Air travel is being grounded yet again.

Interestingly, according to the NASA site, volcanoes this far north don’t affect global climate much. Air currents rise at low to mid-latitudes, and sink in the high latitudes, so the aerosol particles that can cool the atmosphere (like sulfur dioxide) don’t get spread globally in eruptions like this one. But the ash particles do make it to Europe, causing havoc there.


Comments (30)

  1. I know the Brits were really upset by these events. Of course, little did they realize the Icelandic alphabet has no equivalent to the letter “C”, so when the Bank of England asked for Cash, they didn’t expect all that Ash.

    And yes, this is purely made up for the sake of a bad joke… ūüėÄ

  2. I’m surprised someone who loves pareidolia as much as you didn’t notice the HUGE ALIEN looking at the volcano cloud.

    I smell a conspiracy.

  3. Pi-needles

    @ Wesley: ^ Don’t inhale too deeply – volcanic gases are bad for you and volcanic ash is even more hazardous to your health or so I gather. ūüėČ

    Nice photo. :-)

  4. DeepField

    I see that the path that the plume takes is clear of clouds. Is it a coincidence, or does the volcano cause it?

  5. Bee

    And I have a flight upcoming on the weekend…

  6. Richard Wolford

    Clearly this is caused by the way women are allowed to dress.

  7. Charles

    That “alien” is wicked cool.

  8. That ash cloud should have made a left turn at Albuquerque.

    @ DeepField:

    The area that has been cleared of clouds is known as an ash hole.


  9. Dean

    From what I understand though, strong high latitude volcanoes can affect regional climate though…especially the summers. Generally feature strong troughs through the center of North America.

  10. Interestingly, according to the NASA site, volcanoes this far north don’t affect global climate much.

    And, in this case, it’s only a small volcano. I think I saw somewhere it’s putting about 1% of what Pinatubo did into the atmosphere.

  11. rob

    i kinda thought it looked like a humpback whale.

  12. Harpo

    That’s not an alien, that’s the Grinch.

  13. OTP but move over Great Wall of China! (Link in name)

    “an animal-made structure so large it is visible from space.”

  14. GodzillaRage

    It looks more like a dragon to me.

  15. Rob

    I’m pretty sure that this is a dumb question, and that I already know the answer (“No”) but I’ll ask it anyway, just so that it can be properly demolished and ridiculed:

    If a fleet of the big planes that are used to dump tons of water on forest fires were to dump tons of water (plus other ingredients?) close(ish) to where the ash is venting from the volcano, could it have any effect in, say, reducing the altitude that the ash reaches? Sort of muddy rain-making.

  16. I did not realize that this volcano was still erupting. It shows how much we are at the mercy of nature.

  17. ozprof

    I don’t see an alien, but I do see that one section of the cloud did not like being photographed……. See it giving the two-fingered salute! (English version)

  18. Iceland is being attacked by a bloody huge badger!

  19. I also thought “badger” at first, but now I believe that is an anteater. Or possibly an aardvark.

  20. jcm

    With my pareidolia hat on:
    I see a head (or face) just about being swallowed by a hungry alligator’s mouth.

  21. Jeffersonian

    luv it luv it luv it

  22. christina

    i think we have a lot of people in this world still with an active imagination

  23. MadScientist

    Awwww… it looks just like the dolphin in my tuna sandwiches.

    @DeepField #4: It’s not a coincidence, but I doubt it’s the volcano causing it. On the other hand, the sand may be seeding the clouds and helping to clear them. If you can get enough images you may be able to work that out.

  24. MadScientist

    @Rob: They hardly have any effect on fires (contrary to popular belief, it is primarily changing weather which knocks out those big fires; ‘water bombing’ is a desperate measure to save property or slow down the fire). Someone elsewhere had suggested hosing it down from the ground. In the case of this moderate volcano, that involved up to 62ML water per second. So, if you can get Boulder Dam to the site and put in a fire hose bigger than the Sears Tower, you have half a chance. Oh – I’m not sure what to do about all that water cascading down either.

  25. olderwithmoreinsurance

    There’s a very good post (no surprise there) on volcanoes and climate at
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/current-volcanic-activity-and-climate/. It’s about 4 years old and thus doesn’t include the recent Icelandic eruption but does have interesting things to say about an Icelandic eruption (different, nearby volcano) in the late 18th century. This DID noticeably affect the earth’s climate. Turns out the recent eruption just isn’t explosive enough (at least yet) to get stuff high enough into the stratosphere to have a significant dwell time.
    It’s my understanding that astronomers were able to measure the extra visible extinction caused by a Mexican volcano in 1981(could be wrong about that date but I remember a VERY dark total lunar eclipse associated with that eruption ) and by Mt. Pinatubo in 1991

  26. Rob

    MadScientist – thanks for the comment. Hmm, 62ML/sec – that’s a lot of water. Mind you, hosing from below doesn’t sound very efficient. I was imagining something less dramatic: introducing enough moisture – and/or creating thermal changes – to reduce the spread, and in particular the altitude of the cloud. But clearly, the distribution of enough water, uniformly enough to have the desired effect, is going to be at least a megaproblem.

  27. olderwithmoreinsurance

    Picky historical detail @MadScientist: it’s actually the Hoover Dam. It was called the Boulder Dam during most of the FDR adminstration because Harold Ickes, FDR’s Secretary of the Interior, pretty much hated Herbert Hoover. Very impressive place to visit whatever it’s name and it’s only about 30 miles from Las Vegas.


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