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From Hilbert Space to Dilbert Space

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The volcano, the planet, and modern civilization
From Fire and Ice and Airplanes

I find myself in awe that European air travel has been brought to a standstill by a relatively small plume of ash. Volcanic ash consists of small dust-like particles that eventually settle and make a thin, dark layer within an ice sheet or a series of volcanic flows. A thousand years from now, a geologist studying and dating [...] the Eyjafjallajökull ash flow from the 2010 eruptions will write in her field notebook: “this thin ash flow indicates that there was minor volcanic eruption activity in this area around 2000 +/- 50 years.”

[...On] a geological scale, the recent eruptions are very small. Historical eruptions at places such as Mt. St. Helen’s, Krakatoa, and Pinatubo were larger by several magnitudes. Yet, small eruptions from a small volcano under a small glacier in Iceland have wreaked havoc on air travel and will undoubtedly have a large impact on the European economy [...]. For the planet, the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruptions are insignificant. A little ash, a little lava, a little glacial meltwater. Nothing too significant in terms of gas or lava or water budgets for the Earth. Small eruptions barely worth mentioning in the geology books, but definitely worth mentioning in the history books.

In light of the recent geological events, I would like to quickly remind you of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who criticized the $140 million given to the United States Geological Survey for volcano monitoring by saying, “Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington.”

Booby Jindal, as I like to call him, has been widely criticized for his remarks. Sure, there are no volcanoes in Louisiana but what about Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest? And, as the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions demonstrate, places relatively far away from a volcano can be affected by plumes of volcanic ash. The entire globe can be affected by volcanic ash, depending on the size of the eruption.

According to a recent TIME magazine article, the estimated impact of the Eyjafjallajökull delays on the airline industry is $200 million A DAY. Which, I will point out, is more than the $140 million A YEAR for volcano monitoring which Booby criticized.