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Method developed to assess air safety

A joint Danish and Icelandic study investigates the fatal effect of volcanic ash on aircrafts and proposes a new method of quickly assessing the risk associated with future eruptions

When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland in 2010 all planes flying in and out of Europe were grounded due to the immanent danger of the airborne ash. As a result, a no-fly zone was put into effect in order to protect air travellers from the potentially hazardous ash cloud.

The risk of flying through an ash cloud was unknown at the time. Only by flying through the cloud would scientists be able to understand just how the aircraft would be affected, leading to a possibly fatal experiment.

A joint study between the Univeristy of Copenhagen and the University of Iceland has now created a rapid protocol which provides air traffic authorities with data in deciding whether or not to ground aircrafts when ashes fill the air.

The danger of ash

The study concludes that the ash is indeed dangerous on all counts. Small particles at high altitudes could cause plane crashes by sandblasting the windows and bodies of planes. They could also melt inside jet engines.

This comes as good news to the authorities responsible for making the call of a no-fly zone, which effected over 10 million air travellers and costed an estimated 2,5 million Euro during the 2010 Icelandic eruption.

With the severity of the volcanic ash understood, the most important outcome of the research is a method for quick assessment of ash in the future, according to Susan Stripp, professor at the Nano-Science Centre of the University of Copenhagen.

»I was surprised to find nothing in the scientific literature or on the web about characterising ash to provide information for aviation authorities. So we decided to do something about it,« explains Stipp.

Rapid assessment

Now, in less than 24 hours, important data can become available to air traffic authorities in order to assess the danger of the volcanic ash.

According to the study, the danger of sandblasting of ash particles on aircrafts and the risk to jet engines can be predicted within 12 hours through ash samples. After another 12 hours the particle size can be determined, leading to an understanding of where and how far the ash cloud will spread.

Because of this new information the researchers hope aviation authorities can prevent unnecessary aircraft groundings, which have resulted in widespread travel delays.

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