Atmospheric Science

What's in a Name?

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Science  17 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1360
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6036.1360-a
CREDIT: FOTOSEARCH

Last month, as the Grímsvötn volcano delayed air traffic across Northern Europe, travelers were reminded of the more extensive delays in 2010 from another Icelandic volcano. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano resulted in the cancelation of nearly 100,000 flights, due primarily to fears that ash particles would damage the engines of planes passing through or near the volcanic plumes; however, little data existed on the composition of the ash, which can be highly variable depending on magma source and water content. Baker et al. now report analysis of whole-air samples collected during three flights through the plumes to determine the quantity of oxidants capable of influencing atmospheric chemistry. Based on the depletion of nonmethane hydrocarbons, chlorine radicals probably didn't contribute to any substantial decrease in the levels of ozone or hydroxyl radicals. Gislason et al. found that the properties of the ash particles themselves changed over time as the eruption became less explosive. Initially, they were sharp and hard, but as glacier meltwater mixed with the volcano, salty surface coatings formed on the ash. The link between chlorine-containing salts on ash surfaces and the inferred chlorine radical concentrations is still unknown.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, 10.1029/2011GL047571 (2011); Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 108, 7307 (2011).

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