Ash-free Spain could become an emergency flight hub

Ash-free Spain could become an emergency flight hub
# 07 May 2010 01:51 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Spain has been spared falls of ash from Iceland’s volcanoes for much of the past 40,000 years, according to research that suggests the country could serve Europe as an emergency flight hub in the event of another eruption, APA reports quoting Times Online.

Investigations by scientists at Royal Holloway, the University of London and the University of Oxford have found that while sediments from ancient Icelandic eruptions are abundant in northern Europe, none are known from the Iberian peninsula.

The results, which were collected during research into climate history, suggest that the pattern of ash dispersal from last month’s eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, which did not affect Spanish airspace, is normal for Icelandic volcanoes.

This means that Spanish airports could be considered as emergency landing sites for northern European air traffic in the event of a similar event, such as an eruption of Katla, Eyjafjallajokull’s larger neighbour.

British transport authorities were considering using Spain as just such a hub before airspace was re-opened following a reassessment of the risk from the ash cloud.

Simon Blockley, a volcanologist at Royal Holloway and a leader of the research, said it will be important to draw up contingency plans for aviation in the event of another Icelandic eruption. “We need to consider what is the best location for an emergency travel hub,” he said. “Our evidence is indicative — we need more research — but it does suggest that Spain would probably be suitable.”

Dr Blockley’s team has been sampling volcanic ash residues at sites across Europe, to examine its effect on climate change over the past 40,000 years. While sediments containing ash falls have been found throughout northern, central and eastern Europe, from eruptions in Iceland, Italy and the Aegean, none have been found at the three sites examined in Spain. This likely reflects prevailing weather systems, which carry ash from Iceland, Italy and the Aegean south and east.

About 25 major Icelandic eruptions are known from the period studied, mainly from the volcanoes Hekla, Katla, Grimsvötn, Askja and Torfjajökull. Ash deposits from these have been found across the British Isles, and as far south in continental Europe as Switzerland.

“We’d been looking at the effects of ash on climate, but we hadn’t really looked at where the ash was before,” Dr Blockley said. “Then last month we suddenly became very interested in that question. “There is no reason to suppose that we’re not going to have further eruptions in Iceland: whenever Eyjafjallajokull has erupted in the past, it has set off Katla, and similar weather conditions could cause disruption on an even larger scale.”

It would be worth working out air traffic scenarios for future eruptions in Iceland, Italy and the Aegean, he said. “I’m a volcanologist not a transport specialist, but it seems you could divert air traffic into Spain, and then plug passengers into the rail network,” he said. “If a setup like that were planned in advance, a lot of chaos could be avoided.”