Photos: Volcanic eruption in Iceland

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  1. Stranded British citizens wait beside the Pride of Bilbao Ferry, at Santurtzi, northern Spain, before the trip back to Britain Wednesday, April 21. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A passenger jet flies over houses as it prepares to land at Heathrow Airport, London, U.K. Flights returned to Europe's skies in greater numbers Wednesday after the chaos caused by ash blown from an erupting Icelandic volcano. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tourists who were evacuated by the Belgian Army hug relatives as they arrive in Zaventem airport, Belgium. (Dirk Waem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Passengers rest as they wait for their delayed flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. The International Air Transport Association says disruptions to European air travel caused by the volcanic ash cloud have cost the industry at least $1.7 billion. (Gurinder Osan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A wounded soldier is carried from a C-17 transport plane to an ambulance after it arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., carrying 20 wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, on Tuesday, April 20. Volcanic ash in the airspace over Europe prevented the U.S. military from flying battlefield wounded to an Air Force hospital in Germany. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. French citizens Mercedes and Jimmy Elahcene sit together in John F. Kennedy International Airport, Tuesday, in New York City. Stranded since Saturday, they said they do not have enough money for a hotel. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jon Oscar Bjorgvinnossen drags a stressed and stubborn sheep across ash covered ground to a barn on the Berjanes farm near the town of Hvolsvollur, Iceland on Tuesday. The ash has contaminated the farm's grazing land making it necessary to evacuate all animals. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Relatives of passengers wave to a Lufthansa airplane as it takes off from the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Tuesday, headed for Chicago. Travel chaos in Europe began to ease as some countries resumed flights after days of closures due to volcanic ash clouds from Iceland. (Volker Hartmann / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People greet family members at Tegel airport in Berlin after they returned from Palma de Mallorca on one of the first flights bringing passengers back to Germany on April 20. (Thomas Peter / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A member of the German Air Traffic Control center crisis management group points at a map showing the current air traffic in the sky over Germany near Frankfurt on Tuesday, April 20. The Eurocontrol air traffic agency in Brussels said it expects 55 to 60 percent of flights over Europe to go ahead Tuesday, a marked improvement over the last few days. By midmorning, 10,000 of Europe's 27,500 daily flights were scheduled to go. (Marius Becker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An aircraft of Air Berlin approaches Tegel airport in Berlin on April 20. Frustrated by the days-long grounding, both Lufthansa and Air Berlin began flying without full air-traffic control. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Passengers sleep at the T4 Barajas airport, in Madrid, Spain, on April 20. Spain offered to let Britain and other European countries use its airports as stopovers to get passengers stranded by the volcanic ash cloud traveling again by train, bus and ferry. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaylian Vanhadenhoven, 13, of Belgium, offers bread and jam to other stranded passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on April 20, as many passengers traveling to and from Europe were still stuck due to canceled flights. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ash and smoke bellow from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano near Hella, Iceland, on Tuesday, April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A technician takes a photograph of an engine on a Lufthansa aircraft at Tegel airport in Berlin, on April 20. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An Icelandic farmer clears ash from a goat house after heavy ash billowing from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano covered this farm in Steinar, Iceland, on April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A British family prepares to board the Royal Navy warship HMS Albion at Santander's port, northern Spain, on April 20. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman hugs her boyfriend as he arrives at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on April 20. (Toussaint Kluiters / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. When the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano began erupting on March 20, the first lava to erupt came from vents on the lower slopes of the volcano, which were snow-covered, but not under the mountain’s year-round ice cap. Lava flows filled gullies and built mounds of frothy rock, and they melted and vaporized the winter snow, creating relatively small steam plumes. In mid-April, however, the character of the eruption changed dramatically, and this natural-color satellite image from April 17 provides a look at the new eruptive phase. A cloud of charcoal-brown ash covers half the image. A fresh plume of ash rises over the summit, its southern face illuminated by sunlight and its northern face deeply shadowed. The ash column casts a tall shadow onto the snow-covered ground to the north. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Huw Thomas, of England, eats his breakfast in his cot at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Monday, April 19. Thomas and his family were originally supposed to fly back to England from a vacation in New York on Friday, April 16, but now they are unsure of when they'll be able to return home. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Molten lava shoots out of an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, on April 19. An Icelandic volcano that has grounded planes across Europe is spitting lava but less ash, officials said on Monday, offering travellers hope that skies might clear at a faster rate. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A passenger rests on her belongings in the departures area at Madrid's Barajas airport on April 19. (Sergio Perez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Passengers wait for a train to depart to Rome at Milano Centrale train station on April 19 in Milan, Italy. Passengers are looking for alternative routes to return home after days of disruption in air travel as volcanic ash continues to fill the atmosphere over Europe. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ash covers an evacuated farm as smoke and ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano block daylight on April 19, near Porvaldseyri. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A couple sleeps at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A stranded passenger waits with her luggage at Termini train station in Rome on April 19. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A man crosses an empty departures hall at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano continues to erupt in this image released on Sunday, April 18. The eruption has caused havoc with air travel across Europe and forced hundreds of locals to evacuate their homes. (Ragnar Th Sigurdsson / Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A National Geographic film crew sets up on southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier after landing close to the volcano on April 18. Scientists say that because the volcano is situated below the glacial ice cap, magma is being cooled quickly, causing explosions and plumes of grit. (Reynir Petursson / / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Farmer Bjarni Thorvaldsson pulls volcanic ash off a barn roof on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Volcanic ash mixes with water, sliding down a barn roof near Eyjafjallajokull on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A passenger waits at Bilbao airport in northern Spain on April 18, after all flights were canceled due to the ash. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Synchronized ice skating coaches Danka Durasevic, right, and sisters Sara and Sandra Perl, all from Croatia, look for a cab that will fit all their luggage in New York on April 18. They were among the thousands of visitors stranded in the U.S. due to the ash. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A cloud of ash looms over a farm on April 17. (Ingolfur Juliusson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir of Nupur, Iceland, looks for cattle lost in ash clouds on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Ranchers corral cattle in Nupur as volcanic ash swirls around them on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Volcanic ash is seen over Iceland´s main ring road near Skogar, east of the eruption on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A plane flies past smoke from the volcano on April 17. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A traveler watches a giant board announcing canceled flights at the Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris on April 17. Three airports in Paris and 23 others across the country were closed because of the cloud of ash. (Thomas Coex / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Two flight controllers in Belgrade, Serbia, chat after the closing of airspace over Serbia April 17. (Alexa Stankovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Travelers rest at the deserted Austrian Airlines terminal at the Vienna airport after all flights were grounded on April 17. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Train passengers crowd the Milan railway station in Italy on April 17. Europeans are turning to different modes of transportation with so many flights grounded. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Cars line up at a departure point at the car ferry terminal in Calais, France, on April 17. Ferry operators in Britain received a flurry of bookings from people desperate to cross the English Channel to France, while London taxi company Addison Lee said it had received requests for journeys to cities as far away as Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich. (Michel Spingler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A reddish sky at sunrise hangs over Budapest, Hungary, on April 17 as ash spewed by Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano reaches across Europe. (Gyula Czimbal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Horses graze as a cloud of volcanic matter rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, on Friday, April 16, in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. (Nordicphotos / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Passengers rest on cots as they wait for the resumption of air travel on April 16 at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. (Torsten Silz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Passengers wait in a terminal in Frankfurt on April 16. (Michael Probst / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Passengers wait for transportation to Gatwick Airport after arriving in Glasgow, Scotland on April 16. (Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Ground staff place a protective cover on the engines of an aircraft at Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland on April 16. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A ground stewardess of Air France/KLM distributes croissants to would-be travellers at Vienna's Schwechat airport on April 16. (Hans Klaus Techt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Check-in counters are closed at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on April 16. (Oliver Berg / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A plume of volcanic ash from Iceland, top left, streams eastward on April 15. (NEODAAS, University of Dundee via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Volcanic scientists leave the area after collecting samples of ash in eastern Iceland on April 15. (Omar Oskarsson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Passengers wait at the departures area at Madrid Airport in Spain on April 15. (Andrea Comas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Smoke and steam hang over the volcano in Iceland early April 15. Ash from the eruption is drifting into other countries in northern Europe and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A sign at England's Luton Airport warns passengers of flight delays and cancellations on April 15, after Britain's Civil Aviation Authority grounded all non-emergency flights. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. A farmer took this picture of the Eyjafjöll volcano shortly after its most recent eruption on April 14.
    View two versions of this image in PhotoBlog and discuss which you prefer. (Olafur Eggertsson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Glacier melt from the erupton flooded areas along this river on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. A plume of ash and steam rises in Iceland on April 14. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Rescue teams evacuate residents from rapidly rising waters near the volcano on April 14. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. A plume of steam from the volcano rises 22,000 feet on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. The eruption melted ice on the glacier around the volcano, flooding local areas on April 14. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. (Icelandic Coastguard via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Rivers of lava flow from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. A helicopter flies in front of lava shooting from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Tourists gather to watch lava spurting from the site of a volcanic eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier on March 27. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 4/20/2010 3:28:50 PM ET 2010-04-20T19:28:50

Even as Europe's dormant airports sputter back to life, prudent travelers and businessmen should ask: what if it happens again?

Because it might. Over and over again, for weeks, perhaps months, scientists say.

The last eruption from Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull, in 1821, lasted off-and-on for 13 months — but back then there were no jet engines to get clogged up from volcanic residue.

What should the world brace for if ash clouds wash over European skies intermittently for six months or a year, repeatedly closing airports with just a few hours warning?

The crucial tourist industry will be devastated. Supermarkets will have less out-of-season produce. Businesses, like delivery services, will need to improvise. And everything will be more expensive.

Europe's recovery from the economic recession likely will be set back to zero. Banks and governments, worried about runaway inflation, may tighten credit. Railways and roads will be overloaded with freight and people opting for more reliable means of travel.

Five days into the crisis, a BMW plant in Germany and a Nissan plant in Japan were forced to close temporarily because the ash cloud prevented the arrival of parts shipments. Prolonged disruptions to supply chains could have a profound effect on manufacturing and global trade.

The psychological effects of uncertainty could be numbing. As long as the volcano keeps rumbling, few people are likely to willingly risk more nightmarish delays camped out at airports or trapped in overpriced hotels.

Some people may feel more isolated, unable to escape on a cheap last-minute air ticket. They may think twice about visiting Grandma if it means six hours on a train rather than one hour in the sky. And booking a seat on the intercity express may be a lot harder.

Video: Limited air travel resumes in Europe

Optimists will see benefits in a slower pace of life and the excuse to pass up yet another business conference. Vacations will be closer to home. Certainly, people living under a flight path will enjoy the quiet and skies unmarred by contrails.

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The climate, too, might benefit from the absence of polluting aircraft in the sky, though the cancellation of 100,000 or so flights would amount to just a blip on the rising graph of the world's carbon emissions.

National railways are enjoying a boom. Extra trains are running from Moscow and Madrid and all points in between. Eurostar added 33 trains since the weekend carrying 165,000 passengers from Britain to the continent, or 50,000 more than usual.

Economic ripple effects
Economically, however, the picture would be generally grim.

Video: Volcano set to cost airlines billions Travel and tourism account for up to 5 percent of Europe's economic output. Even if the number of travelers drops by just one person in five, Europe can scrap its hoped-for return to growth this year, said economic analyst Vanessa Rossi.

The spin-off effects of a sharp drop in travel could wipe off one to two percent of GDP. "That basically means we've got a continued recession," said Rossi, of Chatham House, a London research institute.

"If it persists, it's quite chaotic. You find ways through it, but it's going to be more costly," she said. "This is absolutely bad news at the wrong time. But nobody chooses a volcano to erupt. So that's it," she said.

Simon Tilford, chief economist of the Center for European Reform, said it was too early to say the recovery would be severely undermined. Some sectors would suffer more than others, he said, but generally Europe would muddle through.

Airlines, still struggling to return to profits, will be the big losers. The International Air Transport Association calculated the airlines lost $200 million a day during the first five days of the volcanic crisis, and carriers are looking to their governments for support.

Tim Clark, president of the Dubai-based Emirates airlines, said the worldwide airline industry faced the threat of "implosion" if the crisis lasts too long. Without government help "there won't be many carriers left. You simply can't afford to shut down something the size of Europe," he said, putting Emirates' own losses at $10 million.

Countries like Greece and Portugal, already facing debt crises, are counting on their tourist industries to help them limp back to growth — plans that now could go seriously awry.

The ripple effect will spread around our interconnected globe.

Kenya, which exports 1,000 tons a day of fresh goods, has thrown away 10 million flowers — mostly roses — since the volcano eruption. Asparagus, broccoli and green beans meant for European dinner tables are being fed to Kenyan cattle because storage facilities are filled to capacity.

Pineapples are piling up with farmers in Ghana, since the airport has no refrigeration facilities to safely wait for a cargo flight.

European airports like Amsterdam's Schiphol are major transit points for travel between Africa and North America, and from Asia westwards.

With more Europeans staying home and more business done by teleconference, the United States and the rest of the world will see a drop in travel revenue.

India's imports of rough diamonds from Antwerp and London have been hit, denying raw material for its huge diamond polishing industry. Exports of the prepared industrial diamonds and jewelry back to Europe and the U.S. will suffer if flights remain halted, said Chandrakant Sanghvi, regional chairman of India's Gem and Jewelry Export Promotion Council.

Other businesses said they are coping with interrupted air supplies, but they appeared not to have given much thought to long-term shutdowns of supply chains. In the first week of the emergency, the focus was on finding solutions to immediate problems rather than on structural changes.

"I would say it's day-to-day," Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said in Detroit. "There's so many plants that could potentially be affected. ... It's such a complex system."

With its 50 Europe-based planes grounded, DHL, the international delivery service, has engaged in creative routing, said Jorge Wiedemann from its corporate headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Air freight from the U.S. and other points were diverted to Spain, then put on a fleet of trucks. The centralized distribution system based in Leipzig was modified to add regional hubs, he said.

"We are dealing with it on a daily basis." Wiedemann said "So far it's going well and there is no major backlog. How long we can deal with a situation like that is something I can't answer."

Britain's supermarket chain Waitrose also said the effect of closing the air lanes was minimal so far. "There are no gaping holes on the shelves," said spokesman James Armstrong. He could not comment on the likely effects of repeated disruptions. "We are monitoring the situation," he said.

Most of Europe's food markets rely on local or European produce, especially during the summer, and nonperishable canned or packaged imports usually arrive by container ships.

But gourmands with a taste for papaya and exotic produce will have to go without, and menus in high-end restaurants and sushi bars may be red-inked with "unavailable." One Boeing 747 with 110 tons of fish destined for Europe sat on the tarmac in the Middle East, among some 2,000 tons of other disrupted shipments.

Tilford put such breakdowns in the category of "inconveniences" rather than "an existential threat," even under the worst-case scenario.

"There's no doubt it would be very disruptive if it went on for that long. But I don't believe, unless it was a complete blanket on civilian air travel, that the impact on the economy will be that grave." he said.

"Europe is not a particularly trade-dependent economy," said Tilford. Most traffic of goods is internal among the 27 members of the European Union.

"The longer it goes on, the more time we have to find alternative ways of doing things," he said.

Associated Press Writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Tom Krisher in Detroit, and Adam Schreck in Dubai contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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