Your Morning Volcanic Ash Update

A useful fact sheet from the USGS on the wonders of volcanic ash. (Thanks to reader MG in Hawaii.) Graphic of the ash fall from the Mount St. Helens eruption thirty years ago, and likely ash patterns of past eruptions in the western United States:
ashfalls2.jpg

On effects of the ash as it drifts down:

Volcanic ash can cause internal-combustion engines to stall by clogging air filters and also damage the moving parts of vehicles and machinery, including bearings and gears. Engines of jet aircraft have suddenly failed after flying through clouds of even thinly dispersed ash....Cars driving faster than 5 miles per hour on ash-covered roads stir up thick clouds of ash, reducing visibility and causing accidents.

Ash also clogs filters used in air-ventilation systems to the point that airflow often stops completely, causing equipment to overheat. Such filters may even collapse from the added weight of ash, allowing ash to invade buildings and damage computers and other equipment cooled by circulating outside air. Agriculture can also be affected by volcanic ash fall. Crop damage can range from negligible to severe, depending on the thickness of ash, type and maturity of plants, and timing of subsequent rainfall. For farm animals, especially grazing livestock, ash fall can lead to health effects, including dehydration, starvation, and poisoning.
Meanwhile FlightRadar24.com shows practically no action for airports north of Istanbul, except for what are presumably two low-altitude relocation flights in northern Europe, as mentioned yesterday. Flight Radar says it's so overwhelmed by viewer traffic that it can no longer provide detailed information about each flight, including altitude and heading.

FlightRadarApril18.png

Today's big-picture point: the reminder that a development no one would have included in a "problems to worry about" or "events that will shape the news" list for 2010 may end up having profound economic and other effects.

Update-update
: An interesting hour-by-hour animation of the plume's initial dispersion, from the European Space Agency, here. Thanks to reader RG. Also my discussion yesterday with Guy Raz, on Weekend All Things Considered, here.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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