Saturday, April 17, 2010

Iceland's Reach

Sometimes it takes a blast from Mother Nature to humble us just a tad. The continuing volcanic eruption in Iceland, which has pretty much closed European skies to aviation, looks to have an impact far beyond Iceland's shores. Over at The Oil Drum poster Heading Out offers up a brief analysis of the situation including consideration of the effects on wind turbines, and the potential for even more serious impacts if the eruption doesn't end soon. The comment stream is pretty enlightening, and includes reference to Norse mythology for some comic relief.

Travellers are scrambling for alternate transportation, ranging from the Queen Mary 2 for those heading west across the Atlantic, to taxis on long drives (reputedly from Britain to Switzerland in one case). Those of us who remember the chaos immediately after 9/11 (I was in Seattle on business and then headed back to Oakland) can appreciate what our cousins across the pond are dealing with. However, if the eruption continues for weeks instead of days then more serious effects will be in the offing.

The food chain for European shoppers includes a prodigious amount of imports, which will be constrained by limits to transportation alternatives. The costs may rise as the competition for available cargo space increases. American farmers may feel the effects in weather and precipitation patterns, which could disrupt the growing season and our own crops, whether for domestic consumption or export. Airlines, already operating at their financial limits, could be devastated by a signficant loss of revenue. Marginal operators might not survive. What started out as a local event may very well have global significance beyond what we are currently experiencing. If Katla, a nearby volcano, joins its brethren in erupting (statistically very likely), then we may see more serious disruptions in global commerce and agriculture for a longer period of time.

Nature bats last. Always remember that. If you forgot, consider this a wakeup call.

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