Plume and ash

By Phil Plait | May 11, 2010 4:00 pm

NASA’s Aqua satellite took this incredible shot of the Iceland volcano Garvenblagentralfamadoran (pronounced "Eyjafjalajökull") on May 10, 2010:


I know I’ve posted several of these, but this is my favorite; we can actually see the ground in this one, instead of clouds and ice. You can also trace the plume from the volcano for hundreds of kilometers as well, showing just why this event is making such a mess of things in Europe. NASA’s Earth Observatory Picture of the Day is a must-see for anyone interested in these incredibly images coming from space.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (28)

  1. m5

    “Garvenblagentralfamadoran (pronounced “Eyjafjalajökull”)”

    This weed is too good for you to be doing this to me, Phil.

  2. Astrofys

    Swedish guide for an “semi-acceptable” pronunciation of the volcano
    eyja= aye + ah in the beginning ( easy part) then
    fj = is like the beginning of fjord (Norway has some)
    ala = salad minus s and d
    jökull = yokel

    Just add together ( bit of an oversimplification perhaps……) and have fun.

    Improvements are appreciated.

  3. Jeffersonian

    {checkmark} new wallpaper

  4. Steini

    Phil, you will reconsider your favorite when you check out todays (11.5.2010) satellite pic at NASA.

    I actually took the ferry today to the Westman Islands just south of the volcano. Surrounded by Orca whales part of way it was the clearest weather in weeks for volcano spotting!

    Reports state the the ash was courser than ‘usual’ – like sand raining down on the lowlands affected.

  5. Awesome photograph. I was listening to a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast about the eruption. Apparently vulcanologists are concerned about a nearby larger volcano that normally blows at the same time as Eyjafjalajökull (I copied and pasted that!!!). The last time both erupted was in the mid 19th century.

    We may have seen nothing yet when it comes to the shutdown of airspace. I suppose on the positive side it will help governments meet CO2 targets… and it cuts down on those pesky contrails when I’m out with the telescope!

  6. thaneb

    At the mid-point of the image, on the island, one can see a dark region between the sea and a large glacier, Vatnajökull. It is a sandy wasteland called the Sandur. It was caused by jökulhlaups, glacial outburst floods, due to a volcano under Vatnajökull. The last jökulhlaup occurred there in 1996 comprising a 3 cubic kilometer outflow. It obliterated all in its path.

  7. Pierre

    Phil, Tralfamadorians have nothing to do with this volcano eruption.
    They communicate with each other using MAN-MADE
    constructions, such as the Pyramids and the Great Wall of
    China. Everyone knows that. Duh.

  8. Markle

    @ #2 Astrofys and Phil and #6 Andy

    It’s Eyjafjallajökull. Two double Ls. which is like a different letter, a digraph, technically. It’s pronounced like tl with a bit of a schwa(like half of one) after it. (h)ay-ya Fy-atlə Yo-ku-tlə The vowel part of yo is actually pronounced like the u before an r in English, such as in fur or turkey. Get your mouth in that shape, but stop short of pronouncing the r.

  9. CWorthington

    Let us just accept that contortions of our entire face, throat, and body are required for the proper pronunciation.

    spot of error : “… in these incredibly (should be incredible) images coming from space…”

    That would be quite interesting should the partner volcano erupt… Yay for nature providing such grand entertainment!

  10. Ray

    When are they gonna cap it? Its harming the environment!

  11. Pi-needles


    Nice Kurt Vonnegut reference. :-)

  12. MadScientist

    I love the ads: “Would you like to have mental freedom? Fortune? Success? Click here and give me money!” Well, OK, that’s not quite the wording.

    Data from the MODIS instruments on board Aqua and Terra are used to produce similar images using infrared data, so you get images twice as frequently as on the visible channels (since you have data on the nightime overpasses as well); the spatial resolution may be much poorer but the images still look pretty good since the plume does extend over a huge area. The infrared data can also discriminate between normal clouds and the volcanic plume; something which is pretty easy to do in these visible images if you see the source and if you don’t look too far from the source, but which is otherwise not possible to do reliably by sight. A colleague just reminded me that the AVHRR instrument also makes pretty infrared images.

    @Andy #6: That’s just media scaremongering; vulcanologists have no such concern. There is no indication that anything will happen with Katla in the near future. It’s a bit like “oh no, Vesuvius erupts every X years (not true anyway), it’s overdue for an eruption!” In the case of Katla, it is a clear case of confirmation bias. People are only remembering the rare occasions when it erupted in proximal time to an Eyja eruption. Seriously, if volcanoes were that predictable the vulcanologists may be out of a job by now. Of course some rare exceptions exist – Stromboli has been fairly consistent throughout recorded history, but it has had its more unusual and devastating moments as well, so it’s hardly predictable.

  13. JB of Brisbane

    Couldn’t they just forget all the confusion and call it Bruce?

  14. Jonatan Gislason

    I am from iceland so I can tell you that a direct translation of “Eyjafjallajökull”
    Is “Island-montan-gleisier” hope I spelld that right:)

  15. Austen

    @ Jonatan Gislason. I think you mean “Island-Mountain-Glacier” – but don’t worry, your still probably a superior linguist to me!

  16. Michel

    1 out of 2 ain´t half bad.

  17. Jim Ernst

    Am I the only one who saw this picture and thought it was from a camera looking up a small waterfall (with the rim distorted)?

    For a second I was wondering why NASA would have an Aqua photographer.

  18. Jonatan Gislason

    hehe Icelandic spelling takes so much energy that my english suffers….. just look at what we name our volcanos :) but if you look very cloesly you can se me wave-ing in the litle island on the right (Westmanislands or Vestmannaeyjar in icelandic) most bautifull place in Iceland

  19. Matt T

    @ Jonatan (20)
    To the left, I think you mean(?). Southwest of Throatwobblermangrove. At least that’s what Google tells me, and they know everything.

    And regarding “Island-Mountain-Glacier”… how does one parse that? It’s a glacier on a island that’s one big mountain? An island made of a glacier on a mountain? Or is it really just three nouns smashed together (interpretation optional)? Where does the island part come in (other than the fact that Iceland itself is an island)?

    ETA: for clarification, I ask because in English “Mountain Island” and “Island Mountain” would mean two different things. The former would be an island, presumably with a bigass mountain on it. The latter would be a mountain… that somehow made people think of islands…? Maybe a Fuji-esque mountain stuck in the middle of a big plain.

    ETA2: oh, did I just answer my own question…? IslandMountainGlacier = the glacier on a mountain that looks like an island…?

  20. Jonatan Gislason

    If I remember correctly (and I am not 100% sure) I think that the name whuld be that the mountain is called island mountan becaus of my island (westmannisland),there are a bunch of islands there not just the one, and the glacier is on that mountain ?? :/

  21. Kilted_Canuck

    Pictures like this are why I got into satellite remote sensing. If you want to see more pictures from Aqua or Terra (its sister satellite) in visible wavelengths go to

  22. davem

    @ Jonatan Gislason
    “I am from iceland so I can tell you that a direct translation of “Eyjafjallajökull”
    Is “Island-montan-gleisier” hope I spelld that right:)”

    No, but it’s good to know that Icelanders have as much trouble spelling English as English speakers have pronouncing Icelandic :0)

  23. Jón Grétar Borgþórsson

    @Matt T(21): Probably your ETA2 was right. It’s also a possibility that the names have something to do with the Westmann Islands that are there close by. One might imagine that this mountain range was somehow used as navigational guide to the islands. Or simply just because of the proximity. It’s also common practice to make descriptive names of things out of combined words like that. For example Flugvél = Flug Vél = Flying Machine = Airplane. In this case the mountain is called Eyjafjöll so the glacier on top of it is Eyjafjallajökull. The bigger glacier next to it is located in Mýrdalur (SwampValley) so it’s called mýrdalsjökull(SwampValleyGlacier)

  24. Matt T

    @Jón Grétar Borgþórsson (25)

    Thx. Also: coolest name evah. (Yours, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, they’re all awesome.)

  25. Wally


  26. pauul heloskie

    Could the volcano be a good thing if enough white ash gets suspended in the upper atmosphere sun light will be reflected lowering global temperature Ithink that climate change can’t be argued with if geology is event partly correct past ice ages and so forth. The only question is what is mans contribution to the change?


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