Ash clouds creep toward Scandinavia, Europe
Plumes from Icelandic volcano likely will disrupt some flights, experts say

The main ash cloud released from this weekend's eruption of an Icelandic volcano is creeping toward Scandinavia, while a smaller plume is nearing Scotland, raising concerns that the ash could affect air travel in Europe.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it was likely that flights from parts of the country would be disrupted as early as Monday night. "That's the way it's looking certainly at the moment," a CAA spokesperson said.

Britain's Met Office is predicting a plume of ash from the Grimsvotn volcano would cover all of Ireland, Scotland and parts of northern Britain by midnight EDT on Tuesday. The Met office told NBC News it does not want to speculate about concentration levels and what they could mean for air travel.

The April 2010 eruption of another Icelandic volcano prompted aviation officials to close Europe's airspace for five days out of fear that the ash could harm jet engines. Thousands of flights were grounded, airlines lost millions of dollars and travelers were stranded, many sleeping on airport floors across northern Europe.

The impact of Grimsvotn was expected to be far smaller because the larger cloud was moving far north of most flight paths, but travelers and aviation officials were still watching nervously.

Danish air traffic officials said the main ash plume reached eastern Greenland, a semiautonomous Danish territory. Air Greenland said its Monday flight between the island's main airport and Copenhagen was canceled as a result.

Aviation officials in Norway said the cloud might also affect flights to and from the Arctic islands of Svalbard on Monday.
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The ash plume was unlikely to affect the travels of President Barack Obama, who arrived in Ireland on Monday. Most trans-Atlantic flight paths run far south of the ash cloud's projected path.

No repeat of 2010
Iceland shut its main airport after Grimsvotn, about 120 miles east of Reykjavik, erupted Saturday. The airport remained closed Monday morning, but officials hope to reopen it later in the day.

Eurocontrol's models of ash concentration showed the main plume of ash at heights between 20,000 and 35,000 feet — the normal altitudes for passenger airliners — gradually extending northward from Iceland over the next two days. The cloud is predicted to arch its way north of Scandinavia and possibly touch the islands off the northern Russian coastline within the next two days.

Neither plume is projected to reach the European mainland.

"We are not in a position to say as yet as to whether there would be any disruption of European aviation," said Brian Flynn, deputy head of operations. "In any event, we are very confident that if there were to be some disruption it would be at a much smaller scale than that we witnessed last year."
Image: Ash plumes
Jon Gustafsson / AP
This photo, taken Saturday, shows smoke plumes from the Grimsvotn volcano, which began erupting for the first time since 2004.

Flynn said that about 50 to 60 of the approximately 500 daily flights between Europe and North America fly over the Arctic. But they too were not likely to be affected because the height of the ash cloud was several thousand feet below their normal cruising altitudes.

EU spokeswoman Helen Kearns noted that differences in the nature and size of the ash cloud means that "we are far from where we were a year ago."

Some airline chiefs complained that regulators had overreacted last year. But a study last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded the shutdown had been justified. It said the hard, sharp particles of volcanic ash blasted high into the air could have caused jet engines to fail and sandblasted airplane windows.
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