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Volcanic ash gets its close-up

Last year’s Icelandic eruption spit supersharp and potentially harmful particles, nanoscale images show

3:05pm, April 25, 2011

The most detailed visual study yet of volcanic ash from last year’s Icelandic eruption reveals just how sharp, abrasive and potentially dangerous the particles were.

After Eyjafjallajökull erupted in April 2010, sending volcanic plumes high into the atmosphere, officials closed Europe’s airspace for days because of the risk of ash scouring planes or being sucked into jet engines and shutting them down. “Aviation authorities made the right decision,” says team leader Susan Stipp, a geoscientist at the University of Copenhagen.

Hours after the volcano began erupting, University of Iceland volcanologists Sigurdur Gíslason and Helgi Alfredsson raced toward it to collect ash. They were the last ones to cross a bridge to safety before meltwater floods from atop Eyjafjallajökull washed the road away.

Gíslason sent some of the fresh ash, along with another batch collected 12 days later, to Stipp, whose lab studies how na

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