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Scientists Analyzing Ash From Icelandic Volcano

September 28, 2010

Researchers working with the British Geological Survey (BGS) are studying ash samples collected from the Eyjafjallajökul volcano that could shed new light on the dispersion of volcanic ash following an eruption, according to a Tuesday report by BBC News.

Neil Bowdler, a science reporter with the British news agency, reported that the samples were collected following the massive March eruption of the Icelandic volcano, and that they could help scientists find out why ash that was fine when it was propelled into the air returned to Earth in clumps.

Dr. Susan Loughlin, the BGS’s head of volcanology, told Bowdler that the samples they collected using double-sided adhesive tape at sites in the UK were greatly varied in both shape and size, and were “really quite beautiful.”

“Some of the aggregates are dendritic, so they’re really angular and have long fingers of… material,” she told BBC News, adding that the ash samples ranged in size from less than one micron-diameter individual grains to 200-plus micron large clumps of volcanic ash.

“Others are quite round, quite blocky, quite densely packed,” Loughlin added. “And then we’ve also got really tiny crystals, which are very very beautiful under a microscopic view but extremely tiny.”

Bowdler reports that the samples collected by the BGS will be compared to those recovered closer to the volcano, and that the researchers are hoping to discover how the ash turned into clump-like “aggregates” before plummeting into the soil. Specifically, they are hoping to discover how long the process took, and how much of the fine ash remained in the sky.

“What we want to know is how much ash is left up in the plume because that’s what the civil aviation authorities are interested in,” Loughlin said. “What we need to understand is how that plume evolves through time and how that fine ash is removed from the air.”

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano, which is located in southern Iceland, is believed to have begun on March 20, and the ongoing eruptions eventually created air travel chaos throughout northwestern Europe, stranding tens of thousands of travelers for nearly a week. The London Volcanic Ash Advisory Commission declared that the eruptions officially stopped on May 23.

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