Infographics of the Day: What's Up With That Crazy European Ash Cloud?

Real-time information about the ash cloud, and the airports that are gradually being reopened.

Six days ago, a volcano erupted in Iceland, halting most European air flights and stranding hundreds of thousands of people. Today, the flights are finally starting to begin again--and we finally have a couple infographics that make sense of the entire mess. Together, they tell you quickly about the scope or the problem--they're also being updated in real-time with information about the ash cloud and the airport operations.

This chart from The Guardian gives you a good overview of the countries being affected by the ban, and on the right, there's a handy series of maps showing how the ash cloud spread over time. (Sure, it would be nicer to have an animation, and it would be more useful if all the maps were on the same scale, but, hey, it was a rush job.)

volcano infographic

And this chart from The Wall Street Journal gives you all of the information by airport, and it's constantly updated. In an unexpected twist, Reykjavik has been unaffected the whole time--its airport has been open for business ever since the eruption, due the vagaries of wind currents.

volcano infographic

A little bit of background: The floating ash threatens planes because the razor-sharp bits of debris--finer than sand--get caught in an airplanes' engines, intakes, and electronics. But the engines' are the big problems. Once the ash is inside, it melts and congeals, grinding the turbines to a halt. And then: CraaaaaaassshBoooooomm.

What's surprising is that anyone's in a great rush to fly: The ash is invisible to airplane radar and can't be seen at night. But the fact that any of these airports is opening up is testament to how accurate our meteorological tools have become. (Cross your fingers!)

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