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Eruptions Grow More Active Overnight

April 18, 2010 — Geologists say there isn't an end in sight to the Icelandic volcanic eruptions -- in fact, they grew even more active on Saturday. And this is making flight travel a nightmare. Many airspaces across Europe still remain closed, leaving hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded. Click on the video to the left to hear their stories.

The Icelandic volcano that has been erupting for days now is showing no signs of slowing down.

Scientists warned that activity grew vigorous overnight, when eruption columns grew, spewing more ash. It's believed that because the volcano is situated below a glacial ice cap, the magma is cooling quickly, causing more explosions and plumes of grit.

This combination can be severely damaging for plane engines if prevailing winds are right. Forecasters say the light prevailing winds in Europe right now mixed with large amounts of unmelted glacial ice above the volcano mean there won't be a great deal of change over the next few days.

Yesterday, the ash cloud looked be getting smaller, as the eruptions became less volatile. It appeared more stable and the plume had shrunk to five to eight kilometers high.

However, that all changed during the overnight hours. Icelandic Meteorological officials say that only about a third of the total quantity of glacial ice in the crater has melted, which means this could lead to days worth of eruptions. The ash plume rose again to an astounding 9.144 metres with intensifying volcanic activity.

According to a meteorologist at Britain's National Weather Service, it is possible for planes to fly over the ash cloud, but it's up to individual countries to determine whether they want to open higher airspace.

Aviation experts are saying it's the worst disruption Europe and the world has ever seen, except during wars.

And it's costing big bucks. The International Air Transport Association said the volcano is costing the industry at least $200 million a day.

Most of northern and central Europe's airspace has shut down, affecting flights as far away as New Zealand to San Francisco. On Saturday, France's Prime Minister extended airspace closure until Monday morning. Meanwhile, British Airways has cancelled all flights to and from the U.K. on Sunday.

Even world leaders' travel plans are being affected. Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Barack Obama had to cancel plans to attend Polish president Lech Kaczynski's statefuneral.

THE VOLCANO

The problems all began earlier this week when a volcano erupted in southern Iceland, spewing smoke, ash and white steam into the air. The clouds were then carried over to Europe by the flow of the jet stream.

In Iceland, about 700 families were evacuated from their homes. The eruption partially melted a glacier, which has triggered damaging flood.

You can read more on the situation in Iceland by clicking the story under the Related Links at the top of this page.

HOW ARE TRAVELLERS COPING?

In some airports across Europe, the frustration is evident. People have been slumped over their bags waiting for the latest information on their flights.

One passenger who travelled from Edinburgh to Paris by bus after his flight was cancelled said, “We were supposed to return from Edinburgh on Sunday. We managed to get a bus to London and another bus from London to Paris, we were on the road all night. We arrived this morning, we are trying to call the car park where our car is, but we can't.“

“Our flight to Budapest has been cancelled, I guess we are sleeping at the airport,” said another.

Still, other travellers have been taking the setback in stride.

“We can totally accept why we are not flying, so it's not as if we were seated here, we're angry or anything. We are just to bide with it,” one woman said.

In some cities, the Red Cross was called in to help provide passengers with a comfortable place to sleep at the airport. Airlines are reminding passengers whose flights have been cancelled not to proceed to the airport.

RAIL SERVICE BOOMING

The disruption of thousands of flights has sent stranded travellers scrambling to make other transportation arrangements, and that's led to a boom for rail companies.

All 58 Eurostar trains between Britain and Europe have been operating full, carrying some 46,500 passengers.

Still, for many people, a rail ticket is hard to come by.

“I just got back from London City Airport, I was going to Vienna for a meeting, so well, I guess the trains are all full up too and maybe I have to take a boat or a bus,” one man laughed.

THE POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS

Authorities in the U.K. and Iceland told those with respiratory problems to remain indoors. The World Health Organization said Europeans shouldn't under any circumstance go outdoors if the ash starts settling.

They say the ash is potentially dangerous for people when it starts to reach the earth because inhaled particles can enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems

HOW LONG WILL THE DISRUPTIONS LAST?

Geologists are saying that activity has increased at the erupting Icelandic volcano, causing an ash plume to rise kilometers into the air.

A University of Iceland professor says that the winds have cleared up some visibility and now scientists can fly above the volcano to assess the activity. Once the ice melt can be determined, it'll be easy for scientists to say how long the eruption could last.

The professor believes that as long as there's enough ice, more plumes could potentially form, causing even more travel disruption.

If YOU have travel plans to Europe, you could face major delays or cancellations today. For more information, make sure you check out our Flight Tracker. It can be found under the Related Links section at the top of this page.

For the latest updates on this story, make sure you tune into The Weather Network on TV. Our newscast comes up at :12 and :42 minutes past each hour.

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