Civil aviation authorities closed airspace and shut down airports in Britain, France, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe on Thursday as a high-altitude cloud of ash drifted south and east from an erupting volcano in Iceland.
As fine as talcum powder and as hard as quartz, volcanic ash can be extremely damaging to aircraft engines, windshields, and systems.
Along with being small, ash particles have been measured to have a hardness of 6 on the Mohs’ Hardness Scale. That compares to quartz, which can cause scratches on both glass and aluminum.
Particles are electrostatically charged while suspended in the plume which means they are attracted to surfaces, clinging upon contact.
Also, the high acidic values of volcanic ash particles help accelerate component corrosion to aircraft if left unchecked (untreated).
Historical data suggests that about two-thirds of all volcanic eruptions on earth occur in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the area where most of the world’s air traffic takes place.
Eurocontrol, the agency in Brussels that is responsible for coordinating air traffic management across the region, said disruptions to air traffic could last another 48 hours, depending on weather conditions, and could extend deeper into continental Europe.
The volcano erupted from under a glacier in the Eyjafjallajokull region of Iceland on Wednesday and according to Lucia Pasquini, a Eurocontrol spokeswoman, resulted in the cancellation of roughly 5,000 to 6,000 of the 28,000 daily flights across Europe the day after.
Source: New York Times

Inga Yandell
Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.