Volcano followup: pix, video

By Phil Plait | May 23, 2011 2:07 pm

Within hours of posting about the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn, I found out that helicopter footage of the plume (with tons of lightning) has been posted on Vimeo by Jon Gustafsson:

Lightning is common in volcanic plumes, but this one produced quite a bit more than usual. The footage is striking. Ha ha.

Also, NASA released a beautiful image of the plume as seen by the Earth-observing Terra satellite:

[Click to hephaestenate.]

Note the scale; the ash column is over 20 km (12 miles) across. I said in the post earlier it reached 11 km in height; however the NASA news release states that it reached over 20 km high!

There is some indication the ash may be a threat to air travel in the UK, too. That’s a bummer; Eyjafjalajökull disrupted air travel for weeks. Let’s hope this one subsides sooner.

Video from Jon Gustafsson on Vimeo; Terra image from Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (25)

  1. bigjohn756

    How many lightning bolts to the ton, Phil?

  2. Luneowl

    If you squint, you can just see the balrog emerging.

  3. IsobelA

    That really is incredible. You can forgive early civilisations for thinking there must be some kind of angry god producing that – gobsmacking stuff! Beautiful, too.

    On a purely selfish note, I hope it’s done soon ’cause I’m supposed to be flying up to Inverness next week and Scottish airports are closing now.

  4. Diane Hornsey

    Amazing footage, hope everyone is okay over there in Iceland. Its scary just watching it here on the laptop so it must be really scary living in Iceland at the moment. I live in West Yorkshire England and have been told to look out for the ashcloud tomorrow.

  5. RwFlynn

    Wow! I had never thought about how much lightning there could be in a volcanic event such as this. Truly impressive.

  6. BigBadSis

    The Enterprise must be exploring as well — right around the 1:50 spot.

  7. John R Baylis

    Wow. Has anyone measured the impact on the earth’s rotation or positioning in the universe due to volcanic erruptions? I am sure someone has. Do you think that the impact is exponentially more than the energy I consume in my car? Or is the ash more damaging to the atmosphere then my exhaust from my weed wacker? Something to think about, if we “puny man” think we have any control on this earth. We are quickly reminded.

  8. NAW

    You have to admit, no wonder the ancients would freak out when things like this happened. Even with us knowing what is going on it is breathtaking.

  9. Steini

    Is it only me or is that Santa around 1:20? Happy Santa of hellish DEATH!

  10. Ronan

    …Granted, it’s probably WAY too early to be getting fussed about this, but…am I the only one who’s a bit concerned by this? I mean, I gather that even for Iceland, this is a pretty big eruption–and if I recall correctly, the Laki/Grimsvotn/Hekla complex of volcanos has, in the recent past (that is, the last thousand years or so) been responsible for several fairly devastating climatic events, giving multiple “years without summers” in a row. How exceptional is this event? Any news on how much SO2 has been pumped into the upper atmosphere? Can I start wearing my “The end is nigh” sandwich board again, or will it have to stay in mothballs until 2012 (or, y’know, whatever the next apocalypse du jour is. I’m not picky).

  11. Lynn Wilhelm

    Oh crap. My mom and her husband are in Ireland due to come back to the US this Saturday. First the Queen’s visit, then Obama’s and now a volcano. I do hope they are having fun and none of the these major events negatively affected(s) their vacation.

    What actually is going on in Iceland? Are residents safe? Do many people live near this thing?

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    Jaw droppingly spectacular. Natural fireworks of both kinds there. Awe inspiring. ūüėÄ

    I see the head of King Kong (or any dominant “silverback” gorilla really) at the 35 second mark or so. At around the 3 minute mark or so you can see (with enough imagination) the face of Zeus or Poseidon and more including a slowly rising hooded cobra and sheep. Guess like gazing into clouds or campfire flames you can see whatever your imagination can produce. :-)

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    @14. Lynn Wilhelm :

    I think people are safe – at least I certainly haven’t heard otherwise and I doubt many are living near the volcano – especially now! ūüėČ

    Of course, I could be mistaken. See :






    for more.

    Seems the volcanoes are on or close to glaciers which are pretty much uninhabited far as I can gather from some preliminary checks. I think Grimsvoten is actually inside the Vatnajökull National Park.

  14. @ RwFlynn:

    Wow! I had never thought about how much lightning there could be in a volcanic event such as this. Truly impressive.

    When Mt. St. Helens blew in 1980, those of us underneath the ash cloud as it collapsed were treated to groovy displays of pink lightning overhead. Something about the color and density of all the ash in the air tinted the discharges as observed from the ground. It was rather psychotronic.

  15. Silber

    Can somebody explain to me in (some) detail how those displays of lightning are formed exactly?

  16. CR

    @2 bigjohn 756
    Perhaps ‘tons’ was a mistake… maybe he meant ‘oodles’ of lightning.

    By the way, as someone who loves to watch thunderstorms, I had to keep reminding myself while watching the volcano video that all the grey in those shots was not water vapor clouds, but countless tons (oodles?) of pulverized rock particles… mind blowing!

  17. MadScientist

    I would question how much lightning is ‘usual’ in an eruption column.

  18. 19. Silber Says: “Can somebody explain to me in (some) detail how those displays of lightning are formed exactly?”

    Probably not, but it sounds like a great research project. Start filling out those grant applications!

    – Jack

  19. Brian Too

    It’s like Marge Simpson’s hairdo! With a crazy, Bride-of-Frankenstein twist!

  20. Egill V

    hey all, everyone here in iceland is fine, it’s not dangerous long as there aren’t any airheads wanting to get too close and most have the sense to stay away, those that don’t aren’t clever enough to get past the police stopping them on the roads before they get in trouble.

    casualties are 0

    some sheep/cows/horses have gotten it a bit rough, pretty sure some have died, as well as some birds, saw some footage of birds trying to get to the light and banging into windows, trying to get a relief from the ash and basically out of the darkness of the ash.

    it’s mostly annoying for most people here, very minor ash has reached Reykjavik, but when the ash cloud was heading our way it was a bit intimidating as can be expected, but never a worry, people with breathing troubles were advised to stay indoors as well as those with sensitive eyes, all though i think most didn’t notice much difference unless those that lived near Grimsvotn.

    as of now, geologists are thinking the biggest poof is over with, and they doubt it’ll pick up again, to start with it the blast reached up to about 8 kilometers, but now it’s about 3-6, and Grimsvotn eruption have a history of starting strong then fading out, hoping it’ll keep in tune with that reputation.



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