Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eruption and disurption - Trying to make sense of the chaos in Europe.

More weird news concerning the volcanic eruption / air disruption which grounded about 7 million people:

It now appears that.... :
  • The decision to close air-space over much of Europe was based on a computer model operated by the Meteorological Office's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, which prompted a warning from the Met Office, which triggered the wider European ban, via Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based air traffic control centre.The warnings from the Met Office were not based on empirical scientific evidence, but on a “model” running on mathematical projections. (Telegraph)
  • The European sky was partly re-open not because of scientific analysis of the cloud but because airlines conducted some 40 or so test flights of their own.... and it was fine! (So they say). (FT). Talking about empirical evidence!
So have the authorities overreacted? Are we to trust airlines?
  • Well, there have definitely been some problems as some NATO F-16 fighter jets flying over Finland had serious problems with their engines. (Reuters), as did a Belgian F16.
In the even-weirder category, the British navy is sending ships to rescue stranded passengers (FT) (although this may be a bit of a political stunt given the elections coming up in 10 days and the political fallout of the current chaos). Of course, the British love to re-play Dunkirk all over again.
The Guardian calls this the new swine flu, and blames the authorities for not making risk-assessment :
"The slightest risk cannot be taken or someone might blame the regulators, whose job is not to assess risk but avert it. Even an airline company, with everything to lose, is not allowed to assess its own risk."
In all fairness, this is a new situation and protocols have clearly not been established. It makes sense that the risk depends on the concentration of ash in the cloud - something computer models don't seem to be able to figure out.
What is clear is that no one knows much about anything:
European authorities were not sure about scientific questions, such as what concentration of ash was hazardous for jet engines, or at what rate ash fell from the sky, Mr Ruete, the EU’s director-general for mobility and transport, said. “It’s one of the elements where, as far as I know, we’re not quite clear about it,” he admitted. (FT)
Interestingly, the system is different in the U.S.

While the US system leaves air carriers with the responsibility to determine whether or not it is safe to fly “the American model is not a model of less safety”, he said. “You just need to look at the statistics to see that.”

Under European rules, member states have the power to decide whether or not their airspace should be open. But decisions during the past week have been guided by computer models from the Volcanic Ash Centre in London and Eurocontrol, an organisation that co-ordinates air travel. (FT)

The Germans seem to have started measuring the concentration of dangerous volcanic ash in the air.... It's about time, I'd say.

Meanwhile, this is far from over as a new ash cloud is coming towards the UK and probably to the rest of Europe. Meanwhile the Icelanders are relieved that this crisis is not of their own making.
In any case, the fact that volcanic activity in Iceland and the ash clouds may last for months and cast a more or less persistent haze over Western Europe (depending on the winds) is a scary one for this day and age. (NPR)

NOTE : Yes, there could be dire consequences in the months to come or some good news in the short term but scary scenario in the long term.


themanbehindthecurtain said...

I was at a playoff hockey game in Los Angeles last night and met a guy from Sweden that is stuck here. He decided to make the best of it and enjoy the extra time here!
I know this is not a typical case. A lot of people are going broke having to pay for extended hotel stay. I read that this volcano spewed ash for 2 years straight 200 years ago.

I often fantasize about getting stuck somewhere while on vacation, but I wouldn't go broke. At least for a short time I wouldn't.
I don't know about Europe, but a lot of foreigners in the US can't leave the airport because their visa's have expired. That is definitely not fun.

Jerome, said...

Thanks for your comment. Some people did enjoy a few extra days of vacations, but it has been also quite costly for many. And there will be no refund for most of their extra-spending.
I hope to make it to the US this summer... but maybe I should start looking at crossing the Atlantic by sea.
hopefully, I'll be in SoCA this summer and I would very much like to meet with you. You have a very interesting outlook on things.
Email for this blog is japropos@gmail.com
BTW, does your penname have anything to do with episode 20 of season 3 of "Lost" by the same name?

themanbehindthecurtain said...

A transatlantic cruise sounds like fun. 7 days long, I think.

Even though I watch Lost, no, my username is not related. Just one of my many Google accounts!

I think the last time we talked (you may not remember, September 2006, my wife and I were in Paris) my views and opinions were different. Getting older and being more open to outside thought has done wonders for my viewpoints and understanding.

Jerome, said...

For some strange reason, I only now got your comment from April 6 when you actually revealed yourself.
I do remember you quite well of course. (I'm happy to say that even before I read your revelation, I had figured it out, when you mentioned your visit in 06 of course!).
I hope I can see you guys this summer when I'm in CA - we should definitely catch up... but we should continue this by email as well. Send me yours to japropos@gmail.com, and I'll email you from my personal account.
(this blog is intended for more public exchanges)
As far as views and opinion, I can relate. Mine have changed a great deal over the years and I agree that being exposed to different cultures can have a big impact.
I will be curious to hear more of your views, even if they are different. At least you are interested in sharing them and that's something I highly respect, whether we agree or not.
This is really cool and gets me excited.