Scientists at work under the volcano

U.S. researchers have found a silver lining in the massive ash clouds that have covered much of northern Europe in recent days.

The eruption of a volcano on Iceland shut down commercial air traffic in much of Europe for nearly a week, but it has given the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration a chance to test an advanced computer model for predicting volcanic ash dispersion, writes GCN's Bill Jackson.

The science of volcanic ash dispersion is limited by a lack of detailed information about the composition of the clouds of ash spewed by erupting volcanoes, which can threaten aircraft and change the Earth’s weather, said Gary Hufford, a physical scientist at NOAA’s National Weather Service.

“We can advance the science so we can do a better job of detecting the ash,” Hufford said April 20 during a NOAA briefing on the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

The accuracy of computer models became a flashpoint in the Europe, reports Paul Bentley and Claire Bates at the Daily Mail.

The question is whether the U.K. Met Office's decision to close British airspace for six days was based on faulty models. “A scientific model based on ‘probability’ rather than fact was used by the government agency to forecast the spread of the volcanic ash cloud, according to critics,” the newspaper reports.

The ash cloud also got mixed up in European Union politics, reports Mikael Ricknas of the IDG News Service.

The E.U. telecommunications ministers, grounded by the ash-filled skies, opted to discuss Europe's future digital agenda via videoconferencing rather than meeting in Granada as originally planned. Sounds simple enough, but not so, Ricknas reports.

“Since the switch to videoconferencing wasn't planned, some participants will use it as an argument to reject the basis for the discussions, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French secretary of state for strategic analysis and the development of the digital economy, wrote in a Twitter message," Ricknas said.

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