It wasn’t until I flew to Alaska that I discovered and then began to feel how far the shadow of a volcano can reach. The effects of an eruption can travel hundreds or thousands of miles — and change the world in surprising and profound ways. In my case, it even changed the way I thought about flying. — John Calderazzo
Last week’s eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull (pictured above) had us reaching for John Calderazzo’s 2004 book, Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives. For the sheer love of great writing, this volume has become a Land Library favorite. The author journeys crater-by-crater across the globe, but last week’s news vividly brought back Calderazzo’s chapter on Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano:
“KLM Flight 867 entered northern Alaskan airspace around 11am. The sun had just risen, slightly, over the absurdly brief Arctic day. There were 231 passengers on board, plus a crew of thirteen. The jet was also beginning to pass over some of the most deeply unstable landscape on the planet.”
At that point there is no turning back. As Calderazzo puts it, “scalding hot subterranean rock had just turned into ‘weather’.”
From that ominous beginning, Rising Fire describes how volcanic ash seeps into an airliner’s engine, eroding blades, and disabling safety systems:
“KLM 867 had been climbing at a rate of 1,500 feet per minute. Now, in great silence, it gradually leveled off and began to arrow slightly down, as though an enormous invisible rock had come to sit on its nose. The rock was gravity.
The pilots tried to restart the engine. Nothing. They tried again. Nothing. In a powerless glide, the jet dropped faster. Soon, pencils and pens began to float around the passenger cabin…”
Reading Rising Fire helps you appreciate last week’s decision to ground flights across Europe and inconvenience thousands — all in the face of a natural phenomena few of us can fathom.
Here’s just a few books from the Land Library’s shelves on the world’s hot spots:
Encyclopedia of Volcanoes by Bruce Houghton, Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives by John Calderazzo, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester, Vesuvius: A Biography by Alwyn Scarth