A large plume of volcanic ash is interfering with flights traveling to/from and over/through portions of western North America, including impacting trans-Pacific flight routes between North America and Asia. According to the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Center, volcanic ash from the Shiveluch Volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula has made it into critical airspace not only in and around Alaska, but western Canada and western U.S. states including Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho.
Three days ago Shiveluch had a violent eruption that ejected ash and gas more than 52,000 feet into the sky. While ash continued to be ejected high into the sky after that initial blast, the jet stream and atmospheric currents have brought the potentially hazardous materials into airspace over the U.S. mainland and Canada.
Volcanic ash can create significant harm to jet engines that fly through them or boat and automobile engines that ingest ash-filled air. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to various airplane parts such as propellers, turbo-compressor blades, and even cockpit windows. Because volcanic ash particles have a low melting point, it can melt in the combustion chamber of a jet engine, creating a ceramic or glass-like glaze that then sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles, and combustors. A jet engine that ingests just a small amount of ash could suffer from total engine failure. Overheating and engine failure is also possible in cars and trucks since volcanic ash can infiltrate nearly every opening in a vehicle. Ash is also very abrasive; ash caught between windshields and wiper blades will scratch and permanently mark the windshield glass, and windows are susceptible to scratching each time they are raised, lowered, and cleaned.
The United States, in partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), operates two Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) where experts are responsible for coordinating and disseminating information on atmospheric volcanic ash clouds that could pose a threat to aviation. Beyond the Washington VAAC and Alaska VAAC in the U.S., other VAACs around the world, such as Tokyo’s, track volcanic debris that could impact flights elsewhere. There are nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers located around the world, each one focusing on a particular geographical region. Their analyses are made public in the form of volcanic ash advisories (VAAs), involving expertise analysis of satellite observations, ground and pilot observations and interpretation of ash dispersion models.
🌋 The mighty #Shiveluch volcano in Russia’s Kamchatka has gone full eruption mode – volcanic ash emissions has reached 20km, right into the stratosphere. #HappeningNow
Gorgeous video of the ash cloud to remind us of the beauty and the force of nature 👇 pic.twitter.com/eQ6TNgfLR1
— Russia 🇷🇺 (@Russia) April 10, 2023