The cloud of ice and rock that hovered over much of Europe after the spectacular April 14 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano
in Iceland stalled air travel, disrupted markets
and caused immediate losses for those in the business producing, transportingand selling perishable products and flowers.
NATO and U.S. troop departures
for Afghanistan were delayed. Scientists are pondering future effects
on global agriculture and plant growth, and possible impact on the oceans.
A Bloomberg Business Week story by Sabine Pirone
what volcanic ash can do to air planes. The ash plumes contain abrasive
silica-based materials that can clog engines and sandblast windscreens.
Planes flying through these clouds can spark an electrical discharge
known as St. Elmo's fire
and speed sensors and power can be disrupted. A researcher quoted in
Pirone's story reports 80 incidents of adverse events and near-disasters
when planes flew into ash clouds. But nothing on the scale of the
Iceland eruption has been recorded in recent times.
So what does this mean, and what should we learn? John Brockman, publisher and editor of Edge.org,
invited scientists, philosophers, psychologists, economists, artists
and theoreticians from diverse fields to contribute their thoughts to The Ash Cloud- An Edge Special Event.
a sampling of comments from the essays 32 scholars and thinkers have
contributed so far to make sense of an unexpected event of world-wide
physicist, says the ash crisis and the financial crisis have much in
common: Most decision makers don't understand math and science, he
says, and most mathematicians and scientists "have no feel for the real
implications of their calculations." He says we need scientifically
trained political decisions makers.Peter Schwartz,
futurist and cofounder of the Global Business Network, is among those who say the consequences of the eruption are "a true Black Swan
He also says the event may not be over. If the volcano continues to
erupt, or the even bigger adjacent volcano erupts, the ash cloud could
be bigger, spread further, and have even greater consequences.Emanuel Derman
professor of financial engineering, contributed two pithy lines. "Old
technology-propeller driven planes-would not have been grounded by ash.
More efficient, more vulnerable."Joel Gold,
MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, says, "The world,
shrunken by smart phones, red-eyes and the Web, is once again immense."
The illusion that we can conquer the earth is dissolved.Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran
social scientist: "Uncontrollable forces of nature outside ourselves
are similar to those inside us: Geological phenomena are similar to
strong emotions..." which can also be uncontrollable. He goes on to
say, "we easily forget that nature is a continuum that transcends
humanity: from star dust to genes to neurons."Lawrence Krauss
physicist: The ash cloud demonstrates that with major events there is
no such thing as local or regional He says a nuclear conflict between
India and Pakistan could disrupt global climate for a decade. He adds,
"If a simple volcano in Iceland can immobilize much of the world, even a
small scale nuclear conflict has the capacity to affect all of humanity
so profoundly that mere airline flight cancellations would be the least
of our worries."J. Doyne Farmer
physicist, sees the volcanic cloud as a reminder of the earth's power.
"Volcanic eruptions are something we have to live with in order to enjoy
the benefits of the nuclear power that keeps the earth's core hot." He
goes on to explains that life on earth seemed doomed 700 million years
ago in a phase when the entire surface of the earth was covered with
ice. This period ended because volcanic action continued. So the
volcanoes saved us.Roger C. Schank
, psychologist and computer scientist, says: "We are confused, as we should be."
contributors wrote about our need to understand risk, the trouble with
risk aversion, the fallibility of models, and our relationship with
chaos. Click here
to read all of these provocative essays.