Did the Icelandic volcano produce more carbon than the grounded flights would have?

01 November 2010
Presented by Diana O'Carroll.

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Which would have produced more carbon: the Icelandic volcano or the planes which would have flown if it hadn't erupted? Find out in this QotW. Plus, we ask if altitude can affect the hours of daylight one experiences.

In this episode

Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull plume in 2010

00:00 - Which are worse for the environment, volcanic eruptions or plane emissions?

Which are worse for the environment, volcanic eruptions or plane emissions?

Which are worse for the environment, volcanic eruptions or plane emissions?

We posed this question to Pablo Päster, a Greenhouse Gas Engineer and Columnist for treehugger.com...

Pablo - Informationisbeautiful.net actually did a great analysis of this and showed that the European aviation industry has about twice as many emissions as the volcano on a regular day. So the volcano has an estimated 150,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions whereas the European aviation industry has 344,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. So, there's actually over 200,000 tonnes saved per day by cancelling 60% of the flights across Europe. Volcanic greenhouse gas emissions are quite different from human greenhouse gas emissions in that, they have been coming out at a steady state over time whereas we are now artificially changing that balance so that the rate of emissions versus the rate of absorption has been accelerated or put out of balance. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities totalled 28 trillion metric tonnes in 2006, so that's put this volcano in some perspective. In 2008, the greenhouse gas emissions of oil company Chevron and power company AEP, exceeded the greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes in that year. Diana - Even an enormous volcanic eruption cannot match the European aviation industry for carbon emissions. It's thought that just over 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day where not emitted as a result of grounding 60% of the flights in and around Europe. With the volcano emitting 150,000 tonnes per day, it would mean that the volcano is better for the atmosphere by 50,000 tons of CO2 per day. On a few bad days, it's estimated that Eyjafjallajokul emitted up to 300,000 tonnes of CO2 which would make it worse to the tune of 100,000 tonnes than the flights which would've otherwise been in the air.

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