The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano appeared to be losing steam, literally and figuratively, Wednesday, though it was still spewing ash into the atmosphere.
“The eruption in Eyjafjallajökull has apparently entered a new phase with less interaction of magma with ice and melt water,” Iceland’s chief meteorological office reported. “It seems that the ice cauldrons over the eruption site have coalesced to form a larger cauldron.”
Iceland’s Met Office has speculated that the eruptions of the volcano to date this year may have relieved some of the pressure building beneath it, causing it to begin more lava production and less ash production.
However, “in spite of magma splatters, no lava flow has been detected yet,” the office noted.
The volcano was still throwing ash up to 6,500 feet into the atmosphere and winds were carrying it even higher – up to 16,000 feet – south of Iceland.
75 percent of flights in Europe to operate
Eurocontrol said it expected 21,000 flights to operate today in European airspace compared with 28,000 on a normal Wednesday.
“By the end of today, we expect that over 100,000 flights in total will have been cancelled since Thursday, April 15,” it added.
The International Air Transport Association said airlines have lost $1.7 billion in that time period.
Most major European airports were in operation Wednesday, though flight restrictions remained in place in some areas. Ireland and UK airports were open, although an area of northwest Scotland was deemed a no-fly zone because of a particularly dense concentration of ash.
Safety debate continues
Monday, European Union transportation ministers approved flights in areas with relatively low concentrations of volcanic ash. Tuesday, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Irish Aviation Authority lifted flight restrictions in those areas, based they said on new advice from aircraft manufacturers on how much ash jet engines can tolerate. But some aviation experts remained skeptical.
“What’s missing is some sort of standard, based on science, that gives an indication of a safe level of volcanic ash,” Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, told The Wall Street Journal.
The European Cockpit Association, an organization of more than 38,000 pilots from 36 European nations, urged a more careful study of the risks associated with flying in volcanic ash.
“Our members have many firsthand experiences of the extremely abrasive and clogging effects of such clouds,” the organization noted. “Operational decisions should be based on the strong safety culture developed over many decades in our industry, whereas financial problems should be addressed with financial solutions – never should the two be mixed.”
Impact in Chicago
Early Wednesday, it appeared trans-Atlantic traffic from O’Hare International Airport was getting back to normal. As of 7:30 a.m., no flights to London, Paris, or Frankfurt had been canceled.
Related: Iceland volcano eruption update: Heathrow suddenly opens
Note to readers: Volcanic ash cloud permitting, I will be traveling to Europe today and reporting on the situation from there the rest of the week. Please check back for the latest updates on the volcano, as well as highlights from my trip that (hopefully) have nothing to do with volcanic ash!