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The earth’s changing tectonics and its industry have always had the potential to affect our lives. Two significant disasters in the last couple of months remind us of this fact. Firstly, the Icelandic volcano erupted on March 20 and caused widespread travel chaos throughout the majority of European airspace. Then there was the April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from a British Petroleum (BP) oil extraction platform, which has affected the Gulf Coast with particular damage to the coasts of Louisiana and Florida.

The eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull gradually built up a sizeable volcanic ash cloud that spread across most of Europe via easterly winds. The eruption was caused by the North American and Eurasian Plates moving apart on a divergent plate boundary that forms part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Since then, airlines flying over European airspace have not been able to travel because of the threat posed by volcanic ash clouds. According to the British Civil Aviation Authority, aircraft jet engines will be damaged by ash clouds unless the volcanic ash air density is less than 0.002kg. If the concentration of volcanic ash is too high, it forms a layer of molten glass on the engine’s turbine blades and prevents the engine from functioning properly.

This event brings back memories of a British Airways plane that barely avoided a volcanic ash cloud while travelling over Indonesia in 1982. According to CNN, the pilot rescued the plane from an ash cloud resulting from the eruption of Mount Galunggung on the Indonesian island of Java. The pilot saved everyone on board by gliding under the cloud and removing the glass by blasting cold air into the engine, restarting the failed engines.

The impact of this Icelandic eruption on the European airline industry has been immense. Effects range from a week’s worth of flights cancelled across Europe to the complete closure of the majority of European airspace, stranding many passengers abroad. There have been more cancellations in the last few days over Britain with airports such as London Heathrow (one of the world’s busiest airports) and London Gatwick closed for business. This not only affected people’s journeys to, from, and throughout Europe, but also had a negative effect on airline profits, especially as companies like British Airways were already struggling from the recent recession.
This was so much the case that British Airways employees will be asked to accept a one month pay freeze while still working, which is still being negotiated. Since then, instability strikes have been organized. Volcanic ash clouds disrupting air travel over Europe are the last problem the company can take for a while.

Major disruptions to passenger travel throughout Europe and other continents continued into April, as customers were not sure where or when they could get a flight. The most worrisome statistic about this eruption is that it has the potential to affect air travel over Britain in particular for 20 years, depending on how long the volcano continues to erupt. If this is the case, this forewarns great economic issues in Britain’s future.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has had a heavy impact on the industries and the coastal environment of the U.S. Gulf Coast. According to the BBC, on April 20 an oil extraction platform owned by BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 members of the crew on board and sinking two days later. Once it had exploded, the pipe connecting the platform to the sea floor bent and broke. According to the BBC, that same leaky pipe is currently sending 210,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the sea every day.

This leak is causing great worry for industries along the coast, including fishing businesses. The fishing industries in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will be tremendously affected by this oil spill if it is allowed to worsen, and the economies of these southern states rely heavily on seafood production.

According to the BBC, Alabama restaurant owner Kendall Stork said that although this would be a very tough situation and “could damage the seafood business for years,” the seafood industry “will be back.” Stork added that the people involved in the industry “ain’t going anywhere.” As the industry is currently “bouncing back” from the Katrina disaster, those fishermen have seen hard times before.

For many like Stork, this incident is all too reminiscent of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. An oil tanker bound for California hit Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled at least 10.8 million gallons of oil into the ocean, causing serious problems for the fishing industry in Alaska.

The underlying issue of the Gulf Coast oil spill has been whether responsibility lies with BP, the owners of the oil rig; Transocean, the company responsible for drilling; or Halliburton, the company that helped construct the rig and laid the cement of its foundation. People are outraged that none of these companies will accept blame for what has happened. According to the Christian Science Monitor, President Barack Obama included himself in this criticism, stating that the Senate hearing of the three companies was a “ridiculous spectacle” of the companies “falling over each other to point the finger of blame.” The main feeling is that BP and its partners were not regulated enough to protect the environment against such a disaster. Therefore, it is likely that offshore drilling will not be as common in the future. Whatever is to be done here, the needs of the coastal community must be taken into account first.

These two disasters spell out the need for better contingency plans. Such plans seem to have become more regular in recent years in order to prevent loss of life and damage to our environment. Although we may seem helpless to stop the increase of natural disasters and oil spills, it is the way we deal with them that is critical.