Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: EDITORIAL: Federal issue: Volcanic ash isn’t just a danger to Alaskans

All the second-guessing about the closure of European air space because of volcanic ash should illustrate at least one thing: Not enough is known about this problem.

The enormous scope of the economic and social disruption in Europe during the past week underscored why it's important for the United States to engage the topic as a nation. The same thing could easily happen here.

Alaska, which has most of the active U.S. volcanoes, has developed a volcano monitoring system during the past few decades that provides a good start. But the system has relied in part on federal earmarks, now a dirty word to many people in this country.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has legislation that would more firmly establish the federal role in monitoring and eruption forecasts. That's a start.

It also appears that regulators and airlines need to come to a firm consensus about what constitutes a danger to air travel.

No one questions that volcanic ash can shut down jet engines. It has happened several times, including once over Alaska. But there is plenty of room for discussion about the specifics of those incidents and what they mean for future emergency air space closures.

Alaska's efforts, and those of our congressional delegation, have been mocked on the national level. Instead, they should be applauded.

Alaska doesn't have a monopoly on American volcanoes. No eruption on U.S. soil in recent times has been anywhere near as violent as the one in 1980 that blew the top off Washington's Mount St. Helens.

Even if there were no volcanoes outside Alaska, though, their presence here would justify greater federal interest.

First, Anchorage is one of the most heavily used air freight landing points in the world. Volcanic ash problems there would send tremors through the country.

Second, an Alaska volcano could spread trouble far and wide. Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull is about the same distance from Paris as Alaska's Mount Redoubt is from Seattle.

A smoking volcano in Alaska and a steady northwest wind would demonstrate in short order why this is a national issue.

# # #

Source: Originally published April 23, 2010