Question: Can the volcanic ash affect the surrounding environment?

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  1. Hi Robert!
    indeed it can, and in several ways. For example, it can affect clouds, that in turn can change the precipitation rate in some areas: as you can imagine, if you change the amount of rain, than you’ll have strong consequences on plants, animals, but also agriculture in that area. Clouds with different colours (if there is more ash, they might become more grey, or any way change their structure) also reflects Sun light differently (this property is called “albedo”, every surface on Earth has a different albedo: sea, clouds, cities, countryside, they all reflect Sun light in a different way). If you reflect more or less Sun light, that means that respectively less or more light gets to the Earth surface, and thus on land, with again consequences on temperature, evaporation, plants, animals and agricultural production. I think volcanic ash that falls directly on land can also affect the surroundings, either burning but also fertilizing the ground with all its nutrients. Did you ever taste wine or vegetables grown on volcanic ground? They are a simple example of a positive by-product of volcanic eruptions 😉


  2. Hi Robert!
    Yes it can, and Anna gave great scenarios! Also, volcanic ash can have a very devastating effect on global travel. For example, the 2011 eruption of Grimsvotn in Iceland close northern European airspace for about 7 days and cancelled about 900 flights. Not to mention that in large eruptions the volcanic ash can travel thousands of miles affecting many regions not just around the eruption itself!


  3. Hi Robert:
    Yes, volcanic ash affects the environment. Some large eruptions produce pyroclastic clouds that cover whole towns. For example, Vesuvius in Italy destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The pyroclastic clouds are dense clouds of hot ash (200°-1000°C) that can travel from the summit of the volcano down along the flanks of the volcano to surrounding valleys. The pyroclastic cloud can travel up to 700 km/hour and as far away as 15 km from the volcano.
    In other cases the ash will travel high to high altitude in the atmosphere. The ash in the atmosphere can be a hazard for airplane engines as it can melt the interior of the engines. Also, the ash will reflect sunlight. In some very large explosions, the ash eruption has been so large that it has actually cooled the atmosphere (for example having snow in the summer in London). The falling ash covers the landscape and fertilizes the soil. That is why many human settlements live next to volcano, because of the fertile soil.


  4. Hi Robert,

    Unfortunately it can. The other scientists have explained it very well. Volcanic ash, does not just affect the environment, but also the economy and industry?

    In terms of the environment, the main effect on weather right near a volcano is that there is often a lot of rain, lightning, and thunder during an eruption. This is because all the ash particles that are thrown up into the atmosphere are good at attracting/collecting water droplets. We don’t quite know exactly how the lightning is caused but it probably involves the particles moving through the air and separating positively and negatively charged particles.

    Do you remember the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland? I had to have 3 flights cancelled, some collaboration work cancelled and worse of my Summer holidays in Malta cancelled, as I could not fly! 🙂



  1. Hi Robert,

    The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland also cancelled many flights and closed European airspace for many days; the fact the eruption happened actually helped the environment as less CO2 was emitted due to the lack of planes!
    Also in 1995 the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano on the island of Montserrat covered 2/3 of the island in volcanic ash. Farmland was damaged too and lots of floods happened because the valleys were blocked by ash. As the southern half of the island was practically destroyed there are not many inhabitants on the island anymore and traveling to the port and airport is still very difficult. Over half the population of the island left after the eruption and have not returned. Its kind of sad when a natural disaster causes something like that to happen 🙁