Bloomberg News

European Skies Clear for First Time in 40 Days as Eruption Ends

May 24, 2010

European airspace will be ash-free for the first time in 40 days tonight after the Icelandic volcano that has disrupted flights for millions of people fell silent.

The U.K. Met Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, which supplies predictive maps to air-traffic controllers across the region, forecasts that the last remaining plume of dust southeast of Iceland will dissipate by 5 p.m. London time.

“Volcanic activity declined significantly over the weekend and has now virtually ceased,” Dave Britton, a Met Office meteorologist, said in a phone interview. “It has continued to emit a plume of steam that’s rising to between 7,000 and 10,000 feet, but there doesn’t appear to be any significant ash.”

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on April 14 grounded 100,000 flights in the first six days, costing airlines $1.7 billion in lost sales, according to industry figures. Further bursts of ash closed airspace across a wide swath of Europe, raising concern that the event might mirror the last one in 1821, when the crater remained active for more than a year.

Met Office maps show the last patch of debris lingering below 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) before the ash is “gone at all levels this evening,” Britton said. Dust is a threat to planes because the abrasive, silica-based material may clog engines and scar windshields.

Observations show that the volcano is now contracting, suggesting that the introduction of new lava has ceased, Halldor Bjoernsson, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Met Office, said today in a telephone interview from Reykjavik.

‘Dormant’

“There’s no lava flow and no ash flow, so we’re classifying it for now as dormant,” Bjoernsson said. “A lot of steam is still rising. Eruptions like this can flare up again, but for the moment there’s no indication of it doing that.”

There is no activity in the crater and the volcano is no hotter than 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a geologist with the University of Iceland, told state broadcaster RUV yesterday. That compares with temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees in the past few weeks.

Gudmundsson declined to rule out a resumption of the eruption in the future. During the Eyjafjallajökull volcano’s 1821 blast, activity that began in December ceased and then restarted, continuing intermittently for more than a year.

Iceland straddles tectonic plates on the mid-Atlantic ridge, making it one of the most geologically active places on earth with 30 volcanic systems and more than 600 hot springs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net; Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik valdimarsson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net; Willy Morris at wmorris@bloomberg.net


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