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Iceland’s Volcanic Eruption

If you have had travel plans to Europe you know that UK airspace is closed and air traffic is at a standstill over much Europe. The culprit is a volcano just off to the side of the glacier that has been erupting since March 21, 2010. The eruption has been spewing sand to silt size ash into the atmosphere non-stop and shows no signs of abatement. In fact the last time this volcano erupted it lasted two years. The issue with air traffic is the most immediate but not the only issue Europe will face as a result of ash fallout.

How The Damage Occurs

With visibility reportedly less than 150 meters in some spots, the thick ash would result in huge repair costs to the engine of any aircraft flying through the ash clouds. Unlike normal dust, volcanic ash from this volcano is composed mainly of silicon based particulates. Because of the fine particle size, this type of debris can enter into engines and other air intake equipment relatively easy.

“The volcano is erupting small, jagged pieces of rocks, minerals and volcanic glass the size of sand and silt into the atmosphere, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This volcanic ash can even be as small as 1/25,000th of an inch across.”

Source: Sally Sennert, Smithsonian Institution

The damage occurs when the silica is heated back up by the crafts engines, melts and them shuts downs the engine. If in flight, this would spell tragic disaster for the aircraft and passengers. The problems will continue to mount, any and all air intake units, air handlers, ventilation equipment from buildings to automobiles are at risk without some form of preventive maintenance now and on a very frequent basis until the ash cloud dissipates.

Other Areas Of Risk

Airlines, industry and HVAC units are not the only areas subject to damage from the dust. Greenhouses, agriculture, water ways are some others just to name a few. For example:

  • Hydroelectric plants are susceptible to the increase in silt buildup in their assets. Energy efficiency is greatly diminished and constant maintenance must be done to remove silt.
  • Agriculture can be severely affected by a lack of light but just as importantly a change in the soils PH levels from the ash settling. Too high or too low will destroy crops possibly causing famine conditions.
  • Greenhouses rely on summer time sunshine for success. Maintenance efforts must be at an all time high to prevent ash on greenhouse covers from blocking sunlight.

The reality is a major ash cloud can have short and long term effects. But there are ways to minimize the effects.

Minimizing The Risk

You cannot defeat Mother Nature, however, you can engage in intelligent actions to lessen the impact of a natural disaster. As you expect from our blog, the keywords are preventive maintenance and inspections. All air filters must be checked, cleaned or replaced far more frequently than normal. How often depends on the amount of ash that blows your direction. Windows, roofs as well as other collection points must be inspected and cleaned more frequently. One very important note, volcanic ash is not the same as pollen or human dust it is more like a fine sand which will negatively impact the efficiency of almost anything mechanical if allowed to enter into a system. As a result preventive maintenance should focus on ash removal versus blowing the ash deposits into unseen locations. For industrial settings, best results will of course be achieved with an EAM system to help organize and schedule maintenance management.

Tell us about your emergency plans should a natural disaster strike.

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