Ash Plume across the North Atlantic

Ash Plume across the North Atlantic

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano sent a plume of ash and steam across the North Atlantic in mid-April 2010, prompting authorities in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and Scandinavia to close airspace over their countries. The airspace closure had a ripple effect, disrupting flights to and from other countries as well. Authorities could not say how long the airspace closure would last, and the ash’s spread threatened to force closures of additional airspace over the coming days.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image on April 15, 2010. A volcanic plume blows from Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in southern Iceland toward the east-southeast. The plume blows past the Faroe Islands and arcs slightly toward the north near the Shetland Islands. The plume’s tan hue indicates a fairly high ash content.

Unlike the soft, fluffy material that results from burned vegetation, volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged particles of rock. Once sucked into an airplane’s turbines, the abrasive material can easily cause engine failure, but an aircraft’s weather radar can’t spot the ash.

Eyjafjallajökull (or Eyjafjöll) is a stratovolcano composed of alternating layers of ash, lava, and rocks ejected by earlier eruptions. This volcano rises to a height of 1,666 meters (5,466 feet) above sea level. It began erupting for the first time in 190 years on March 20, 2010. The eruption opened a 500-meter (2,000-foot) fissure, and also produced lava fountains that built several hills of bubble-filled lava rocks (scoria) along the vent.

  1. References

  2. Adam, K. (2010, April 15). Volcanic ash from Iceland forces cancellation of flights, disrupts travel for thousands. The Washington Post. Accessed April 15, 2010.
  3. BBC. (2010, April 15). Icelandic volcanic ash alert grounds UK flights. Accessed April 15, 2010.
  4. Science Blogs. (2010, April 15). Threat of Icelandic ash closes airspace over Europe. Accessed April 15, 2010.
  5. Global Volcanism Program. Eyjafjöll. Accessed April 15, 2010.

Images & Animations


File Dimensions

  • 720x360
  • JPEG
  • 7200x5600
  • JPEG 11 MB

Note: Often times, due to the size, browsers have a difficult time opening and displaying images. If you experiece an error when clicking on an image link, please try directly downloading the image (using a right click, save as method) to view it locally.


  • Data Date:

    April 15, 2010
  • Visualization Date:

    April 15, 2010
  • Sensor(s):

    Terra - MODIS
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration