Characterization of Eyjafjallajökull volcanic ash particles and a protocol for rapid risk assessment

S.R. Gislason, T. Hassenkam, S. Nedel, N. Bovet, E.S. Eiriksdottir, H.A. Alfredsson, C.P. Hem, Z.I. Balogh, K. Dideriksen, N. Oskarsson, B. Sigfusson, Gudrún Larsen, S.L.S. Stipp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

177 Citations (Scopus)


On April 14, 2010, when meltwaters from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier mixed with hot magma, an explosive eruption sent unusually fine-grained ash into the jet stream. It quickly dispersed over Europe. Previous airplane encounters with ash resulted in sand-blasted windows and particles melted inside jet engines, causing them to fail. Therefore, air traffic was grounded for several days. Concerns also arose about health risks from fallout, because ash can transport acids as well as toxic compounds, such as fluoride, aluminum, and arsenic. Studies on ash are usually made on material collected far from the source, where it could have mixed with other atmospheric particles, or after exposure to water as rain or fog, which would alter surface composition. For this study, a unique set of dry ash samples was collected immediately after the explosive event and compared with fresh ash from a later, more typical eruption. Using nanotechniques, custom-designed for studying natural materials, we explored the physical and chemical nature of the ash to determine if fears about health and safety were justified and we developed a protocol that will serve for assessing risks during a future event. On single particles, we identified the composition of nanometer scale salt coatings and measured the mass of adsorbed salts with picogram resolution. The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range, from submillimeter to tens of nanometers. Edges remained sharp even after a couple of weeks of abrasion in stirred water suspensions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7307-7312
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • European airspace
  • Grain size distribution
  • Iceland volcano
  • X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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