May 1, 2010 Issue

Physics To Go 96 - Iceland volcano

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Physics in Your World

Earth Observatory: Ash Plume across the North Atlantic image
small image credit: NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies; small image source; large image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response; large image source

Earth Observatory: Ash Plume across the North Atlantic

You are looking at the Icelandic volcano plume from above as it continued to spew ash days after the initial eruption. The red region in this infrared image reveals the intense thermal emission of at least 60 megawatts. For more on the eruption, see Earth Observatory: Ash Plume across the North Atlantic.

Throughout mid-April, the Icelandic volcano's plume of ash traveled east into Europe's airspace, grounding flights for over a week (click on the image above to see the plume's path). You can see images of the volcano at different times in April at this NASA page. For more on volcanic activity in Iceland, check out the Physics to Go issue Dynamic Earth.

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Physics at Home

Descent to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

At Descent to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, from the University of California at San Diego, you can follow a submarine descent to the mid-Atlantic Ridge. Also, with this colorful computer activity from the Monterey Institute, you can learn the names and locations of mid-ocean ridges and how distance from the ridges is related to the age of oceanic crust.


From Physics Research

Properties of Volcanic Ash image
image credit: USGS; image source; larger image

Properties of Volcanic Ash

Why were so many European airports closed due to the volcano? The image above of one volcanic ash particle begins to tell us why: the extremely small particles, with their many voids, can travel great distances after eruption. Once inside a jet engine, they melt and then re-solidify. Read Properties of Volcanic Ash for more details. You can learn about the specific dangers of flying through volcanic ash here.

Airlines try to avoid flying through ash, but it does happen. Read the account of one pilot at What it's Like to Fly through Volcanic Ash, and see the precautions against ash that Boeing takes here. For more on the hazards of flying through ash, see this Cocktail Party Physics blog post.

Worth a Look

Hess proposes sea-floor spreading

See Hess proposes sea-floor spreading for the story of how Harry Hess proposed seafloor spreading. In addition, you can visit the USGS' Understanding Plate Motions to see how the mid-Atlantic ridge goes right through Iceland.

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