puyehue’s ash plume drifts towards australia and nz

Chile’s Puyehue volcano is over 9,000 kilometres away from New Zealand, but distance is no barrier to the ash cloud that has now drifted towards the southern part of the country.

Puyehue's spectacular eruption (ABC/AFP)

Puyehue began to erupt on 4 June 2011 but the situation has since stabilised. The initial eruption sent an ash plume over 15 kilometres into the air.

Winds have blown the ash plume eastwards across the Atlantic Ocean, under southern Africa and across the Southern Ocean towards southern Australia and New Zealand. In the diagram below, the ash plume is represented by the lime green and red colours.

Satellite picture of Australia that can also display ash plume (BOM)

For more information and the latest updates, go to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre website.

Disruptions to air travel arrangements
[Update] As of Wednesday night (15 June 2011), the latest information from the Qantas website:

  • All domestic services are operating as scheduled on Thursday 16 June
  • Flights to and from New Zealand are cancelled until 12pm (local time) on Thursday 16 June
  • All other services on Thursday 16 June are operating as scheduled
  • The 15 June flights to and from Buenos Aires have been postponed a further 24 hours to Friday 17 June
  • Flights to and from Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne are operating as scheduled on Friday 17 June

Tiger Airways should be resuming services between Melbourne and Hobart by Thursday, 16 June 2011.

Virgin Australia’s update as at 1pm 15 June 2011, the airline has suspended all services into and out of Perth until 12 noon (AWST) on Thursday 16 June.  Pacific Blue has suspended flights to and from Christchurch and Wellington with immediate effect until at least 9.00am (AEST) tomorrow morning.

References: Qantas, Tiger Airways, Virgin Australia

Why not fly through the ash?
Volcanic ash cannot be detected by aircraft systems. The ash causes abrasion damage as it enters the turbines and fan blades in the engine. As well, since the engine operates at temperatures in excess of 700°C, the risk is that the ash will then melt and block the cooling holes within the engine. The overheating results in the engine shutting down. Longer term, accumulation of sulfur deposits in the engine has been attributed to loss of engine power. Sulfur has also been attributed to fading paint and crazing of windows.

Reference: The 1991 Pinatubo Eruptions and Their Effects on Aircraft Operations

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