Cover Story: Iceland volcano impact

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

A massive cloud of volcanic ash making its way around the world.  Right now it's grounding flights, stranding tourists and impacting businesses.  And now there are concerns this natural disaster could mean a colder summer for us.

It wouldn't be the first time.

Let's start all the way back in 1816 when a volcanic eruption in the Philippines wreaked havoc on the north American climate.

In May- frost killed crops in New England.

In June- Albany, New York recorded a record snow fall.

And in August- some rivers and lakes in Pennsylvania were still covered in ice.

1816 became known as "the Year Without a Summer," "the Poverty Year," and "eighteen Hundred and froze to death."

Could we see a two thousand and froze to death?  No one's saying that right now but it's not being ruled out either.

Just like earthquakes.. you can't predict what volcanoes will do.

Even though it's 3,145 miles from here.. the volcano in Iceland is having an impact here.

Cheers went up in the cabin when US Airways Flight 786 took off from Charlotte Douglas late this afternoon.

Flying to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, it's the airline's first transatlantic flight from here in nearly a week.

Other flights to Europe.. still grounded.

London Gatwick and Frankfurt, Germany haven't gone out from here since last Thursday night.

The no fly zone's stranded the Charlotte Symphony's retiring conductor Christof Perick.  e's stuck in Scotland - the Symphony's found a guest conductor to lead this week's performances.

At Charlotte's International House, executive director Beverly Grant-Turner says there are countless stories of people stuck stateside.  Others across the pond who can't get here.

"I definitely think it's a huge impact on the international world," she said.  "I haven't talked to anyone on the corporate side, but I could bet their clients.. their sales people are probably having significant issues."

But beyond the inconveniences lie a more far-reaching and longer-lasting problem.

"Some of the clouds are dark like these here."

Geological Sciences Professor at UNC Charlotte Dr. Andy Bobyarchick says the ash and grit from the volcanic eruptions that can sabotage an airplane, tiny particles of tiny glass could also change our climate as well.

The tiny particulates and gasses from the volcano that go up into the upper atmosphere can create a kind of shield and can keep some of the son's rays from getting through.

"That's our concern climate wise on any of these larger volcanic eruptions."

It's happened fairly recently, during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.  Global temperatures lowered about degree over a couple years.

It led to odd weather patterns in the U.S.  An unusually warm spring was followed by an unusually cool and mild summer in 1992.

Could it happen again from the Icelandic volcano?  It's too early to tell.

Says Dr. Bobyarchick, "What we don't know what will happen is how long this volcano will continue to erupt.  And if it will continue to erupt beneath ice or not. Those are things we can't easily predict."

Because the eruptions are happening beneath the ice it's cooling the magma quickly.  That's creating the glass particles that can be so damaging to airplanes and Europe lies downwind from Iceland.. which is why it's creating such havoc with air travel.

Could this go on for a long time?  The experts say it could go on for weeks or months.  The last time this volcano was active, it erupted off and on for 13 months.

Copyright 2010 WBTV. All rights reserved.