A volcanic sunset over Edinburgh

A post by Chris RowanIn the last couple of days in Edinburgh, we’ve been treated to some rather spectacular sunsets.

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You could argue that in Scotland a clear sky is more unusual than a nice sunset, but it’s likely that the beauty of this one has been enhanced by the light-scattering effects of volcanic ash thrown up into the stratosphere by the sub-glacial eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull, and blown by the prevailing Atlantic winds across Northern Europe (those familar with Edinburgh may have noted the geological irony of my taking photos of the effects of an active volcano from an extinct one).

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Source: NASA.

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Source: UK Met Office, where a nice animation is also available.

All this volcanic material in the air may have a pleasing aesthetic effect, but as you’re no doubt aware, it doesn’t react too well with jet engines. For that reason most flights out of UK and northern European airports have been grounded for the past couple of days, and may stay grounded until at least tomorrow. It’s somewhat humbling how what is really only a fairly minor volcanic eruption can completely disrupt the life of an entire continent. On the other hand, it is doing wonders for our collective carbon footprint: the estimated amount of carbon dioxide that has been emitted by Eyjafjallajoekull is 30 times less than only three quarters (revised figure – thanks kai) of the amount not being emitted by all those grounded planes.
For more on the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption, both Eruptions and The Volcanism Blog are providing excellent ongoing coverage. You should also check out a post by my friend John Stevenson, an expert on sub-glacial eruptions. And if you want to see a few more photos of yesterday’s sunset in Edinburgh, click below the fold.

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Categories: photos, volcanoes

Comments (9)

  1. Alice says:

    Lovely photos. I do think it’s worth reflecting on the aesthetics of this event. People have been disrupted from their plans and it provides a chance to think about how we as people experience and act on the earth (enjoying Kew Gardens on a plane free day). Especially as it’s causing relatively minor problems, at least compared to the last time I remember quiet skies – Sept 11th.
    Did you see this pic of the volcano and Aurora Borealis against backdrop? Very Phillip Pullman.

  2. Julia says:

    Living under the landing flightpath of the north runway at Heathrow, today has been a beautifully quiet contemplative time. I’ve been able to hear almost nothing but birdsong (except for the 90 minutes when my upstairs neighbour was watching the Manchester derby…) and there is nothing at all in the sky. We haven’t been treated to the same sunsets in London, but I don’t mind the trade.

  3. Amber S says:

    Thanks for posting these beautiful pictures and for the links! My 6 yr old son, Alex, is currently in uber-volcano mode and absorbs anything about volcanoes. He will love this post!

  4. AndyH says:

    Great to see the link to Dr Stevenson’s website – he’s a man who loves his rocks!
    http://johnalexanderstevenson.blogspot.com/ for those who missed it – a great intro to the geo-science behind what’s going on.

  5. Lab Lemming says:

    Is there any evidence of extensive stratospheric (as opposed to tropospheric) loading yet? If all the ash as in the stratosphere, it wouldn’t be a problem for planes…

  6. Lab Lemming says:

    Also, the stratospheric stuff is usually < 1 micron sulphate aerosol, while it is the large silica glass particles that clog jet engines…

  7. Chris Rowan says:

    As I understand it, jets generally fly at or around the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere, where the jet stream is.
    Admittedly, I said stratosphere on the basis of googling the altitude of the stratosphere and comparing that to the reported height of the ash cloud, which is not the most precise method…

  8. kai says:

    Though note that Informationisbeautiful has revised their carbon dioxide emissions estimate by an order of magnitude, we are in fact just saving 60%.

  9. Chris Rowan says:

    Thanks kai – I had seen the revised figure, but had forgotten I had linked to the old one.