PARIS – A cloud of ash hovered over Europe, casting a pall over an interwoven world.
Made up of microscopic particles as hard as a knife’s blade, the dust cloud from an Icelandic volcano crept across the industrial powerhouses of Europe, into the steppes of Russia and as far south as Hungary on Friday.
It left behind stranded travelers, grounded cargo flights, political confusion and even fears the cloud of grit settling on Earth will endanger the lungs of children, asthmatics and others with respiratory ailments.
How long it lasts and how far it spreads depends entirely on two unpredictable events: Whether the volcano beneath Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier keeps pumping tons of dust into the air and what wind patterns do.
The invisible cloud could split, reaching down into northern Italy and perhaps break apart over the Alps. Scientists said the volcano could continue erupting for months, with more chaos ensuing with each big belch of basalt powder and gas.
Is it a first? The 19th-century eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatau island was bigger. In ancient times, Mount Vesuvius buried an entire city, and in the 17th century, eruptions from Peru to the South Pacific blocked the sun’s energy and sent the Earth’s temperatures plunging.
But in this era of global trade crisscrossing the planet by air, the Icelandic eruption has implications that underscore the particular vulnerabilities of the modern world.