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About the Author

Andrew Burgess
Journalist and EU Blogger (Exmouth, United Kingdom)

European citizen with a well-used UK passport.

A graduate in French, Journalism and European Politics from universities in both France and the UK, I have spent time as an active member of the press corps in Brussels and Strasbourg at the European Parliament.

During what was a historic time for the EU with the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and the financial troubles in the Eurozone, to name just a few, I attended the twice-monthly plenary sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg, as well as hearings on diverse subjects of interest, press conferences and numerous high-profile press points.

I regard meeting former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, UEFA President Michel Platini, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton as particular highlights to date.

It would be an honour and an amazing opportunity to extend my reporter's portfolio from the UN summit in September.

I write a regular blog on European Union business, La Treizième Étoile, and can be found on Twitter at @andrewjburgess.

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Why every (Ash) Cloud has a Silver Lining…

Published 23rd April 2010 - 0 comments - 5787 views -

Yesterday, Thursday 22nd April, was World Earth Day – coincidentally it was also the first day of ‘normal’ service across Europe as the airspace reopened to planes following the disruption caused by the now infamous ash cloud that drifted across to Europe from Iceland.

While the disruption caused to thousands of travellers is regrettable, the stories that have been retold in newspapers throughout the continent are heart-warming and the plight that will be inflicted on the numerous airline companies is saddening, we should instead translate this anger into a sense of admiration for the true wonder that is nature.

Aerial image showing the crater spewing ash and plumes of grit at the summit of the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier Saturday April 17, 2010 (Photo: AP/Arnar Thorisson/

Volcanoes, such as Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland (above) are one of the most powerful forces of nature on Earth - they can cause islands to appear out of the ocean and can also do the exact opposite, forcing them to disappear. They are simultaneously one of the most awe-inspiring sights and the creator of catastrophes and mass panic.

But they also create the most patches of earth deposits of lava and ash-based soil which make excellent fertile land for agriculture and enable people to make a living.

Satellite image showing Iceland's position on the Mid-Atlantic RidgeVolcanic activity has resulted in new land masses forming where previously there was only water and sea – the paradise islands of Bermuda and Hawaii for example to which thousands of tourists flock to every year. Another example is Iceland itself, which would not exist had it not been for volcanic activity - scientists believe Iceland rose from the sea floor about 20 million years ago.

To better appreciate the volcanic wonder of nature, we need to indulge in a bit of geography revision:

Volcanoes are created by ruptures in the Earth’s crust. Fuelled by pockets of molten rock deep underneath the surface called magma, volcanoes can allow lava and ash to escape from deep underground in powerful explosions. Magma that manages to break the surface is known as lava.

In general, volcanoes are generally found where there is tectonic activity, where the plates which form our planet’s surface either diverge (move apart), converge (move towards each other), or simply move past each other (the friction in such a move causes earthquakes which of course have caused many disasters in recent years).

Eyjafjallajökul (which in Icelandic translates as "island-mountain glacier”) is one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland, which collectively form part of what is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is an example of where the North-American plate is diverging (moving apart) from the Eurasian plate (as illustrated in the image below left).

In fact, scientists estimate that the two plates are moving apart at the rate of 2.5 centimetres per year (cm/yr). Now while this does not sound a lot this process has been taking place for millions of years and it actually means that Europe is getting further and further away from America everyday. Surely it’s not just me who finds this incredible?

Now, I am sure this is the last thing on the minds of “stranded” travellers’ caught up in the travel chaos resulting from European airspaces being closed. But I think this “crisis” will have profound, important and much-needed consequences, made even more so by the threat and expectation that the nearby volcano Katla, which is a lot bigger and has the potential to create an ever greater and prolonged period of disruption, could be triggered by its neighbour’s seismic activity.

The 400-odd MEPs that were able to make it this week to the Parliament’s regular plenary session in Strasbourg voiced massive support for a big improvement in the European railway network – something that is long overdue and often held-up because certain countries have, in the words of the European Commission, deliberately employed “foot-dragging tactics”.

It also proved simply how reliant countries – particularly my own, the United Kingdom – are on air transportation, not just for reasons of tourism but also to enable the functioning of its economy. I hope that this “crisis” would result in greater emphasis placed on finding other solutions in case of further instances of ash clouds grounding air traffic. The recent cost to European tourism has been estimated by one World Tourism Organisation at a whopping £1.49 billion (€1.72 billion).

A woman makes a phone call in the empty arrival hall of Prague's Ruzyne Airport (Photo: REUTERS/David W Cerny)In addition, the financial consequences of this disruption will mean airlines may need to rethink their route maps and their services. I believe there are currently far too many planes in the air and many on ‘short-distance’ journeys that could be completed by other more-environmentally friendly means of transportation such as a high-speed train (e.g. since November 2007 all Eurostar services have been carbon-neutral and offer a far more comfortable, sometimes cheaper and quicker alternative to the plane).

And then how much CO2 has been saved through the non-flight of all these planes grounded because of the ash cloud?

I argue that instead of complaining, we should all follow the lead of Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Response, who wrote on her blog this week how she can “look at the green trees and spring blossoms, and think of nature not with fear, but with gratitude – for the air I breath, the water I drink, the food I eat, the beauty I enjoy.

Her overall message: that we can never underestimate the power of nature. How true that is.

As the commissioner for International cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response I will indeed argue for better disasters preparedness, because readiness is better (and cheaper) than cure,” she wrote. “In return, I will ask you to share this bit of my optimism in celebration of our precious planet Earth: we, people, are also part of nature, and we can live in harmony with it. It is our choice, we can – and we must – take it!

Even though insurance companies are likely to frustrate customers by refusing to pay out because of an “Act of God”, there comes a silver lining in the form of an EU regulation that legally states airlines based in one of the 27-member states are required to provide compensation to cover accommodation and food for passengers if their flight is cancelled or delayed (Regulation [EC]261/2004).

We should all take a few moments to sit back and appreciate the wonders of nature found all around us – we should not rush to accuse, criticise and blame humans, government officials and/or governments as there is nothing they can do about it.

After all, those who consequently have had their journeys affected now have some time to appreciate the world around us, and an extended, effectively paid-for, holiday cannot be all that bad, can it?





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