April 19, 2010 / 7:07 PM / 7 years ago

Volcanic ash cloud reaches North American coast

4 Min Read

<p>A column of steam and ash rises out of an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull April 19, 2010.Jon Gustafsson/Helicopter.is/Handout</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - The ash cloud from Iceland's volcanic eruption brushed up against Canada's Eastern seaboard on Monday, but airlines said domestic flight cancellations were mostly because of fog.

Environment Canada expected no domestic problems from the cloud, which has shut European airports. "The ash cloud is very diffuse, moving slowly and should not affect Canadian airports," said spokeswoman Laura Cummings.

Britain's national weather service, the Met Office, is responsible for monitoring the ash cloud under international agreements, and duty forecaster Bob Syvret said it was unlikely to drift much further into North America.

"It is just skirting into the Newfoundland area over the next 12 to 18 hours," Syvret told Reuters. "It doesn't look as if it is going to get much further west than that, just on the coast and a little further inland."

Newfoundland, on Canada's Atlantic seaboard, is the closest part of North America to Iceland's erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

An airport spokesman in the capital, St John's, said there had been flight cancellations early on Monday. But that was because of thick fog -- common at this time of year -- rather than fear that the volcanic ash could damage planes.

"Up to this point there is no indication that the airspace will be affected (by the ash cloud)," said Randy Mahon. "Transport Canada hasn't closed any airspace and we've been in regular communication with them."

Air Canada, the country's biggest airline, said it brought some Newfoundland flights forward because of fear of problems from the ash, which can contain glass, pulverized rock and silicates. But operations were now back to normal.

After aviation officials closed parts of Europe's airspace over fears the ash could damage jet engines, airlines have suffered heavy financial losses described as being worse than after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Winds Set to Change

The Met Office said the winds that pushed the ash to the edge of North America are expected to change direction in the next couple of days, which would prevent the cloud from covering more of Canada and the United States.

The Met Office issued a graphic of a map with a red line showing the volcanic plume up to an altitude of 20,000 feet at http:/metoffice.com/aviation/vaac/data/VAG_1271698103.png.

It showed the cloud jutting south from the volcano in Iceland, covering much of northern Europe and then spreading west over the Atlantic and east over Russia.

Estimating the density of the cloud at its extremities is difficult and Syvret said warnings for aviation in North America would be a matter for U.S. and Canadian officials.

"The cloud is most likely to drift north, away from North America and toward Greenland, or southeast and back toward the Atlantic," he said. "We don't think it is going to get any further westwards."

European plane cancellations have affected travelers from around the world. In the United States, the White House said an estimated 40,000 Americans were stranded in London.

Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths and Nicole Mordant, editing by Janet Guttsman and Chris Wilson

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