THE ASH CLOUD

AN EDGE SPECIAL EVENT! John Brockman [4.25.10]
Topic:

Introduction

By John Brockman

On Wednesday April 14th, on the way to London from JFK, the pilot announced a slight delay into Heathrow in order to avoid the ash cloud coming out of the Icelandic volcano eruption. This was the first time I paid any attention to the subject. That flight must have been one of the last to arrive in Heathrow before airspace was closed. That evening, British television was all over the first debate between the candidates in the national election. But I was glued to the news from Iceland. I had gone to London for the London International Book Fair, which was eerily deserted as nearly everyone except the British and French (who took the train) were unable to get there. The talk in London was about who was stranded in London, and out of London, and the heroics of certain individuals who had braved 20-odd hour trips cars, trains, and ferries to get to London from places like Munich, Rome, Umbria.

Tuesday night April 20th in London, I went to bed at midnight, having a confirmed reservation for a 10:30am return flight, but no idea if the airspace would open up in the morning. It did at 10am, and I was very fortunate to be on one of the first planes out Heathrow (only about 2/3 full) arriving at an empty JFK, which, until Wednesday had been a temporary home to hundreds of stranded travelers who slept on tiny cots, and took showers in two specially outfitted trucks outside. Even as of this writing, if you don't have a confirmed ticket to New York, the first available booking is in two weeks. It is very chaotic and it's not over.

Something is going on here that requires serious thinking. We've had earthquakes before, and we've had plane stoppages, but nothing like the continuing effects of the ash cloud.

Why?

I am reminded of the warning call by Freeman Dyson is his Edge feature "Heretical Thoughts About Science And Society" about the use of modeling with respect to global warming. What the ash cloud models apparently showed had little to do with reality, as there were few, if any, actual measurements. What do the psychologists have to say about the way the decision-makers have acted? What have the behavioral economists learned from this? I am interested in hearing from the earth and atmospheric scientists, the aeronautical engineers, the physicists. What can science bring to the table?


What do the psychologists have to say about the way the decision-makers have acted? What have the behavioral economists learned from this? I am interested in hearing from the earth and atmospheric scientists, the aeronautical engineers, the physicists. What can science bring to the table?