Sunday, April 18, 2010

Random Thoughts about Volcano Eruptions and the European Airspace

Mojib Latif says that the volcano eruptions will have no consequences for the climate. But he adds that their effects show how vulnerable we have become in respect to  'completely natural phenomena'. A British economist who is stuck in Tokyo told the New York Times that “We don’t understand how interconnected we are until you can’t do it anymore.” I do agree with both statements and want to extend the meaning of interconnectedness; we are not only interconnected in terms of economy etc, but we are also interconnected with the workings of nature inside the earth  and its effects on the upper atmosphere.

 The NYT article lists some of the consequences that the breakdown of air traffic has:
'While the closing of the airways has already laid waste to the immediate plans and business of industry, the arts and world leaders, the possibility that it could drag on for days, if not weeks, is raising concerns about the longer term consequences for public health, military operations and the world economy.'
Read in detail what they mean by that, and you get an idea of how many aspects of our earthly businesses are interconnected with events in the upper atmosphere. This adds well, as far as I understand it, to the insight in the recent article by von Storch et al that climate science is more than a sub-field of physics; everything climate is interconnected with culture.

The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk says that meteorologists and climate scientists present a weather- and climate theater, while all of us turn into weather experts and comment upon the show. Sturken, an American anthropologist, called this passive or consumerist way of weather experience ' watching weather porn'. Until we realize that we are indeed part of the show that we watch, and that we are uncomfortably close to those forces that enable and restrict our culture. Culture? Culture is just like climate: our culture both enables us to react to these natural events, and it puts constraints on us - just as climate does. We always perceive natural events in the framework of our cultural heritage, of our beliefs and our current knowledge; we react culturally. The Kulturwissenschaftler Thomas Macho consequently comes to the conclusion that climate = culture. This is confusing, indeed. However, physics alone won't help to get a plane back home.


Anonymous said...

Mojib Latif says that the volcano eruptions will have no consequences for the climate.

And the biologist would suggest otherwise ( in a local geographic area)

Eg Langmann et al

Volcanic ash as fertiliser for the surface ocean

Iron is a key limiting micro-nutrient for marine primary productivity. It can be supplied
to the ocean by atmospheric dust deposition. Volcanic ash deposition into the ocean
represents another external and so far largely neglected source of iron. This study
5 demonstrates strong evidence for natural fertilisation in the iron-limited oceanic area
of the NE Pacific, induced by volcanic ash from the eruption of Kasatochi volcano in August 2008. Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were favourable to generate a massive phytoplankton bloom in the NE Pacific Ocean which for the first time establishes a causal connection between oceanic iron-fertilisation and volcanic ash supply.

The problematic issue for climate science with a multitude of interrelated disciplines is are they integrable ,at present this is not the case and The parable of the elephant imparts sufficient information to tell us why,

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.


@ReinerGrundmann said...

I wonder if there have not been comparable eruptions in previous years/decades. Have the flight regulations been tightened as a result of fatal accidents (or near accidents)?

The volcanic activity certainly humbles our understanding of technological mastery over nature. High tech jet engines cannot cope with ash -- sounds like trains canot run because of leaves on the track (every autumn in the UK).

On the other hand, if enough SO2 gets up there, and we see cooling as a result, some might fall for geoengineering ideas, e.g. to blast off volcano tops (in more remote regions outside flight corridors) to create cooling.

Note the irnoy: the further we try to distance ourselves from the forces of nature (through technology and culture), the more we get involved with them.

P Gosselin said...

I just got back from Church, and now I find here all this pondering.

I'm happy we have all our technology and "interconnectedness". Volcanoes decades ago caused famines and widespread misery. But today, thanks to human ability to adapt, everything with a VEI of 5 or less is hardly more than a passing nuisance.
These once major disturbances are caused by natural forces 1000s of times greater than what man could ever possibly muster. Yet man has reduced them to the level of a nuisance.
Eyjasjallajökull reminds us of the triumphs of human progress and ingenuity. I'm certainly not at all compelled to go back to the Confessional and ask forgiveness for my CO2-using lifestyle.

Mathis Hampel said...

P Gosselin said...

"An so einem Vulkanausbruch sieht man einfach, wie sehr wir empfindlich geworden sind gegenüber völlig natürlichen Phänomenen."

Latif views the situation too negatively, in my view. this gloominess seems to be a psychological trait shared among many climate scientists.

I think the opposite is true. Man has not become "very sensitive" and vulnerable. To the contrary, we have responded over the last 10 or so decades magnificently. Today we are surviving many things nature throws at us, which would have killed us in huge numbers just a few short decades ago.
Humans are far less vulnerbale today than ever. We are not sensitive. This is pure fantasy.

I'm going outside now to enjoy the beautiful weather. I'm not interested in this group-moping session on imagined self-inflicted vulnerabilities.

I think it's sad when people take the best we have and turn them into doom and gloom. What possibly motivates this?

Hans von Storch said...

Anonymous/1 - I do not think that there is a contradiction with the two assertions of Latif and Langmann. Langmann (and colleagues) demonstrates that Vulcanoes may change the regional sinks of carbon, which is scientifically interesting, but will not lead to strong changes in the greenhouse-gas presence in the atmosphere. Therefore, there will be no significant changes of climate, as Latif correctly points out.

I would agree to the validity of the elephant story; that's why I wrote the article "Climate science – is it a sub-field of physical science?", to which Werner was so kind to refer to.

Anonymous said...

@ Reiner Grundmann #2: "I wonder if there have not been comparable eruptions in previous years/decades. Have the flight regulations been tightened as a result of fatal accidents (or near accidents)?"

Just take a look at:

...and I do not think we try to distance ourselves from the forces of Nature, we (as a species) always tryed to avoid any bad consequences bound to Natural forces. I hope we all agree there was never a Natural Paradise in our past. Should we start vindicating that natural and artificial are not synonyms for good and evil, as some would like to pretend. Is there any good in suffering NATURAL diseases?.

So, for me the irony is to suggest implementation of solutions for a (perhaps) non-existent problem (CAGW). The irony (for me) is that the sophists may win in the end, don't you think?.


eduardo said...

This event might in the end get hooked on the climate change discussion. There are some common ingredients. The movement and density of the cloud is estimated by a model, apparently there are just a few measurements. Airlines retort that the model predictions do not correlate with what they see in their test flights.
If in the end airlines turn to be right and authorities have overreacted causing considerable economic losses...

Hans von Storch said...

Indeed, Eduardo.

Werner Krauss said...

unfortunately only in German; Frank Schirrmacher from the FAZ reasons about the authority of models; it is not the clouds of ash that bring air-traffic to a halt; instead, it is the model which in this case is not based or supported by empirical measurements. He also argues that the model turns all of us, politicians, pilots, experts, tourists into an audience - experience, common sense, tests cannot compete with the authority of the model. The article is very talkative, but with interesting ideas:

Anonymous said...


This brings three concomitant
mechanisms into play,surface albedo,cloud nucleation due to dmsp, and co2 drawdown (from a biological POV),

The is visible in the airborne fraction ,eg Gloor et al 2010

The interesting attribute is the swiftness of the biological response .

Off the Modus(aqua) instrument the UK phytoplankton bloom .


Georg Hoffmann said...

Here measurements of the volcanic ashes

Here what hapens with the engine of a jet who flies through theses ashes

And here how it feels to sit in the very same airplane:

Werner Krauss said...

'The decisions about closing the airspace have to be based on facts, not only on computer models', says Bisignani, the president of IATA.

This is an interesting statement. What exactly defines a 'fact'? When do 'facts' speak and bring debates to a closure? How does this fact look like, how is it composed, what methods are necessary? A fact that decides the matters of safety, that is juridically binding and ends all discussions. 'Fact' says: Fly! or: Don't fly!

It is easy to see an analogy to the climate debate. A cloud of ash is comparatively 'material' and 'real' compared to global warming; how difficult it is to find a 'fact' that is 'factual' enough to change economy in a similar way! 'Fact' says: immediate carbon emission reduction! 'Fact' says: No carbon emission reduction!
Can 'facts' at all decide what we have to do? What exactly are 'facts', and what role do they play in decision making?

Georg Hoffmann said...

"This is an interesting statement. What exactly defines a 'fact'? When do 'facts' speak and bring debates to a closure? How does this fact look like, how is it composed, what methods are necessary?"

That is easy to answer. You sit in KLM-867 (see above) and the facts speak to you as loud as they can. For example the wet spots on your pants tell you: "Why was there nobody who took a responsible decision".

Zajko said...

Ravetz has quickly framed this as PNS:

Facts Uncertain: how thin must the dust be, for it to be safe enough for flying?
Values in Dispute: Regulators wanting safety at all costs, others needing to get flying now.
Stakes High: Crippling costs to industry, versus big risks to aircraft and people.
Decisions Urgent: Every day the immediate costs mount, and the long-term costs grow.

Negotiating risk seems to be the issue here. The regulatory response here in the face of high uncertainty and potentially catastrophic circumstances seems to be to shut things off entirely. This makes sense if you expect the situation to be temporary or expect better future information.
Now the challenge will be how to allow the system to open in a controlled manner - what routes will be safe?
Governments have to play carefully here because this is irritating a lot of people - the UK is sending the Navy across the channel to help evacuate. That won't work for trans-Atlantic passengers.
This situation is far more urgent than AGW, as it will have to unfold in the coming days, so it's interesting to see how some of these decisions are made under serious pressure.

Werner Krauss said...

@georg #14

wet pants - you are right, it is so easy. We just need someone to take responsible decisions. Remember Powell saying it is a fact that Iraq has chemical weapons? Fact - action - war! (the fact was a photo he showed).

Georg Hoffmann said...

Absolutely remarcable Textverstaendnis: Yes, this was what I wanted to say. a call to start the war. How did you guess?

It is easy: Airplane flies through volcano ash, nearly crashes: Next time thinck twice before flying through theses ashes. Facts, learning or dying, new facts, learning or ... and so forth.

Hans von Storch said...

Georg - would you agree that the concentration and characteristic of the particles play a role? Thus, in some cases it is danagerous, in others not.
And would you agree that according to media reports the first in-situ efforts to measure and sample were made this Sunday and today, at least in Germany?
Indeed, colleagues were glider-flying over Hamburg this weekend, and they reported to have had ash on the plane.

Werner Krauss said...

Don't get me wrong, Georg. I just wanted to illustrate my idea that there are situations when facts become a tricky thing. Facts play a role in a long chain of arguments that make up the decision process, just as shown in Zajko's and Ravetz' considerations (post #15). But they do not necessarily tell us what to do.
Or else, we stop all air traffic until the volcano falls asleep again - that would be the easiest solution. Or: we just stop all carbon emissions and then we will see how climate reacts - great idea, except there might be some obstacles to put this into practice. Sometimes you even have to decide for wet pants, because otherwise things even worse would happen.

ghost said...

Sometimes you even have to decide for wet pants, because otherwise things even worse would happen.

what does this mean for climate science? I mean, some say (over-dramatized and totally simplified): if we do nothing for reducing CO2 emissions, we are doomed and the global warming will be bad... they others say, if we reduce CO2 emissions radically, we are doomed and the economy will cripple, societies will break apart, and will be totally poor etc. at least.

So, I see only that somebody complains that "evil IPCC scientists" are doomsday preachers. But, if I you look exactly, there you can find (unreasonable) fears on the "other side".

I know, there are many shades of gray between the both points. I just wanted to state: it is not clear which way is the "wet pants" way, IMHO.

wflamme said...

Wie man auf STANLEY_Track sehen kann, wird ja dennoch geflogen - so richtig ernst wird das offenbar nicht genommen:

Werner Krauss said...

So who decides? The facts? The models? The politicians? Economic pressure? Public opinion? Scientists? Employees? Tourists trapped in four star hotels? Conference organizers? Insurance companies? The government?

Today, flights are possible in some countries, in others not. Is this due to the extension of the cloud, or to political decision processes? A few days ago, all responsibility was with the models, according to the press. Now pilots complain that responsibility is shifted on their shoulders. Who is responsible in the end?
This is a highly political cloud. It is as political (and economic, social, cultural, what have you) as everything in heaven (or the upper atmosphere, as you folks use to say). The decision is taken by the scientific-political-cultural-social-economic complex, made up out of a mess of associations and networks. Interestingly enough, it is not science alone that decides what to do. Science is one factor among many others, and in the end scientists do what they always do: they want more funding to build up a system that enables them next time to do what everybody for a moment expected them to do right now.

Anonymous said...

Nach Information der Flugsicherung austrocontrol:

die Konzetration und Zusammensetzung der Asche über Mitteleuropa war ausreichend gut bekannt.
Die bekannten Flüge durch Aschewolken sind mit der aktuellen Situation nicht vergleichbar, da die Konzetrationen ums x hundert-bis tausendfache höher waren, als zz über weiten Teilen Europas.

Es gibt, od. gab, keine Richtlinien hinsichtlich Toleranzen und wenn es diese nicht gibt, dann ist die Flugsicherung gezwungen den Luftraum zu sperren, auch wenn nur das geringste Sicherheitsrisiko bestehen könnte.

Mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit wären Flüge über Mitteleuropa unproblematisch, aber eben nicht zu 100%.
Jetzt hat man endlich die Gelegenheit zu testen und zu messen um Toleranzen festzulegen.

P Gosselin said...

Richard Tol makes a splash!

Hans Erren said...

Werner writes:
What exactly defines a 'fact'? When do 'facts' speak and bring debates to a closure? How does this fact look like, how is it composed, what methods are necessary? A fact that decides the matters of safety, that is juridically binding and ends all discussions. 'Fact' says: Fly! or: Don't fly!

I compared the models and the observations on my weblog
The VAAC London cloud looks very dispersed now and indeed does carry a disclaimer about ash concentrations.
What's the value of such a huge warning region now that planes are actually flying through it?

VAAC London model:

Aura OMI observations:

Marco said...

@Hans Erren:

You are aware that several planes have now landed with clear 'dust' coverage? We've had an ArkeFly reporting that, and a freightplane going from Maastricht to Ostende.
These planes were not even close to where the satellite pictures you show indicate large amounts of aerosols. In the last few days ash has been coming down in parts of the UK, days after the satellite pictures do not show significant amounts of aerosols over the UK.

Question: do we trust the satellite pictures to give an accurate view? They apparently don't fit with reality either!

Hans Erren said...

From the press release:
"Uit een uitgebreide inspectie is echter gebleken dat het de Boeing 737 en de motoren niet beschadigd zijn door het vulkaanstof. "

So yes, we do can trust the observations of dangerous ash levels.

This is very comparable with the precautionary "particulate" scare that is running in environmental circles, now that all visible and smellable pollution has been taken care of.

Marco said...

The models from the Met Office did not discuss danger levels. They described spread of the ash cloud.

The one really uncertain factor was the level of ash that could be regarded dangerous. We simply do not know when it is dangerous. In other words, the models clearly gave a bigger spread of the ash cloud that was closer to reality than the satellite pictures. The satellite pictures may be more representative of the dangerous levels, but since we don't know when it is dangerous (damage WAS found on the freightplane), we indeed go into the precautionary principle.

P.S.: You are aware of the many in vivo studies that show toxicity of nanoparticles? Size does matter...

Zajko said...

@Hans Erren
" that all visible and smellable pollution has been taken care of."

What a relief! When did this happen? Can I go downtown and drink the river water now?

itisi69 said...

Current society is filled with risk aversing Post Normal Science. I guess one day we all stay in bed all day...

Marco said...

And while people all over the place are complaining about unnecessary precautions, the Finnish airforce observed damage to some of its Hornets, (translation available through google translate or the like. Not perfect, but you'll get the idea)
The British airforce has grounded its Typhoons because of damage.

Both cases due to volcanic ash. Both while the airspace is open to all commercial aircraft.

wflamme said...

This is the analysis report of the DLR-Falcon measurement flight:

itisi69 said...

Some background news:

Hans von Storch said...

Itisi/31, Post Normal Science. -- Likely the term "post normal science" is not very well defined (and has undergone different meaning since its creation), but "risk averting pns" is certainly contradicting the very concept of pns. In my understanding pns is a situation, in which - among other features - value positions massively enter scientific knowledge claimsmaking - usually with opposing positions. The presence of skeptics and deniers is an integral part of pns of climate change, in the same way as the presence of alarmists.

PNS is a thought-provoking analysis of a type of social dynamics in the science-public interaction. I noticed that there were quite a few rude and entirely inappropriate comments on Jerry Ravetz over at WUWT related to PNS.

itisi69 said...

Dr.Von Storch: Ravetz uses his neo-marxism PNS for risk aversion, or, as you wish, mitigation various scientific problems, under the disguise of pursuing the truth. PNS is one of the manipulative arts that Machiavelli would have been proud of. His 2007 Oxford paper consists various marxist principles such as "heuristic power", "factual novelties", "contradiction" and "characteristic contradiction". Scientists have to learn quickly about different perceptions in order to please poltician instead of seeking deep and ultimate knowledge. Ravetz wants to use science as a political tool therefore degrading science as it was under Stalin and Hitler.