Ground-based observations of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano ash plume over the northern upper Rhine Valley in Germany

Ash-fall event in southern Germany

On April 14, 2010, when meltwaters from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier mixed with hot magma, an explosive eruption sent unusually fine-grained ash into the jet stream. The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range, from submillimeter to tens of nanometers.

In general, the assessment of the visual detectability of airborne volcanic ash is very complex because the detectability depends on many parameters, such as the brightness and the color contrast between the airborne volcanic ash and the background, illumination, particle size distribution and mass concentration, wavelength-dependent light scattering and absorption by the ash, the viewing angle, and human perception (e.g. Weinzierl et al. 2012, Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 45–46, 87–102). However, on 19 April 2010 the ash cloud of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull was clearly seen under clear-sky conditions by scattering of light near the horizon (early sunset) by the Heidelberger scientist Gerhard Schmidt ( from a mountain (Melibokus, 517 m) about 30 km south of Frankfurt airport. The ash plume came from a north-westerly direction and covered the mountain road, named Bergstraße („strata montana“) south of the city of Darmstadt and north of Heidelberg.

Chemical fingerprints (characteristic major and trace element ratios, for example Sr/Zr, Sr/Rb, Zn/Cu, and elemental patterns) from sampled single ash particles from the Black Forest area have shown that at least 40% of the 2.5 and 10 µm size particles were of volcanic origin from the volcano eruption event (Schleicher et al. 2012, Atmospheric Environment 48, 113 - 121).

The volcanic emissions of most concern are SO2, HF, sulphate (SO42-), CO2, HCl and H2S, although, there are other volcanic volatile species that may have human health implications, including mercury and other metals.

In the evening of 19 April 2010, a smell of sulfur is noticeable in the city of Bensheim about 40 km south of Frankfurt airport. Irritation of the mucous membranes was caused by the inhalation of the dust particles.

  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    2 minutes 59 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 24, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    50 EUR
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Director Biography

Gerhard Schmidt was born in July 1961, in Germany. He is an amateur filmmaker. Schmidt received his PhD in Science from the Heidelberg University. He spent one year as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California in Los Angeles. Schmidt has done research in Earth Science at the University of Mainz, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the University of Cologne. Schmidt has teaching experience and supervised graduate students. He was teaching chemistry and geography in high schools and introduced pupils into extracurricular learning environments. In recent years, Schmidt provided academic services in ground water research at the Heidelberg University. He presented the results at international conferences and published in scientific journals. In general Schmidt is especially interested on the resolution of pressing challenges in the area of sustainable use and integrated management of environmental resources.

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