The Icelandic Ash-Cloud Saga – Three Years On

By Catherine Waite

In the spring of 2010 the global media was dominated by stories of disruption as a result of the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Despite being a significant volcanic eruption, the direct consequences of this event were never really a matter of life or death given the comparatively remote location of the volcano. However, Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption will be remembered due to the world-wide disruption that ensued. In the week following the eruption over 95,000 flights were cancelled and 10 million passengers were stranded (Adey et al. 2011).

Natural hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes are widely seen to be part of the realm of geographical research but studies published in journals including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and The Geographical Journal  clearly demonstrate the full scope of geographical research potential that events such as this stimulate. In Donovan and Oppenheimer’s (2011) work on the reconstruction of geography in relation to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, they argue that

“the apparent breakdown of communication between scientific research, policy-makers and the public is the manifestation of a wider problem – one that is well-suited to geographical research, combining as it does both human and physical dimensions” (p.4)

This relationship between these stakeholders is demonstrated in today’s ruling at the European Court of Justice regarding compensation claims made to airlines following the eruption. This case brings together members of the public, airlines, national and European justice systems and others such as the hotels, restaurants and firms whose business was affected by the disruption.

Consequently the significance of geography to this story is clear. The eruption itself will obviously be subject to geographical study but geography as a discipline is also well suited to study the short and long-term impacts of this event as well as considering solutions and mitigation methods to prevent disruption of this scale happening again in the future.

books_iconAdey, P., Anderson, B. and Guerrero, L.L. 2011 An ash cloud, airspace and environmental threat Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 338-343

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2011 The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geography The Geographical Journal 177:1 4-11

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2012 The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk The Geographical Journal 178:2 98-103

60-world2BBC News Ryanair ash cloud case: EU’s top court rules against airline 31st January 2013

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