Volcanic effects

What a spectacularly unexpected week it’s been for transport. I don’t suppose many of us imagined seeing this kind of warning notice on the Underground…

London Underground notice warning of volcanic ash, 15 April 2010 (David Rooney)

As I write this at the weekend, the volcano is still erupting, and pretty much all UK flights have been grounded since Thursday afternoon.

It’s dangerous to attempt to fly through the ash cloud, as news reports have explained. The ash contains glass which can melt and then harden inside jet engines, causing them to shut down. Airlines are now carrying out test flights to assess the potential for damage.

Seeing this huge Rolls-Royce RB211 engine in the Science Museum’s Flight gallery gives an idea of the size and complexity of modern jet engines, which are masterpieces of precision engineering.

Rolls-Royce RB211 jet engine, 1970 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

But, as we’ve all been reminded this week, the power of the jet engine is nothing in the face of violent nature.

Scientists have been studying volcanoes and their effects for centuries, with scientific explorers in the eighteenth century making some strikingly beautiful images of volcanic eruptions and their aftermath.

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 1779 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

These etchings of a 1779 eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius by Peter Fabris, from William Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei, demonstrate the sheer force involved.

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 1779 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Our copy of Campi Phlegraei is housed at the Science Museum Library and Archives at Wroughton. All the images have been scanned for our Ingenious website – see them here – or why not make an appointment to see them in the flesh?

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