Saturday, July 02, 2011

Volcanic Ash and the Balancings of the Clouds

The ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 challenged scientific knowledge. While further understanding has been gathered, the recent eruption of Grimsvotn has revealed much of the lack of knowledge on the part of many about these things in spite of their claims. Now the Government has appointed an Ash Cloud Tsar, a scientist who is to give them the exact knowledge they need. There has been much debate about the computer forecasts of the ash cloud made by the Met Office’s Volcanic Advisory Centre. The computer model – called NAME – takes into account wind and rain patterns to predict the movement and concentration of the ash cloud up to altitudes of 55,000 feet. It also estimates the type of ash spewing out of the volcano in terms of the size, shape and hardness of volcanic ash particles.

In spring 2010 scientists conducted three flights into the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic ash cloud to collect air samples. They made new discoveries. 'Each volcano has its own character', they concluded. 'We found that hydrocarbon concentrations were up to 70% lower inside the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud than outside.' They found that the ash plume contained not only the common volcanic gas sulfur dioxide, but also free chlorine radicals. Chlorine radicals are extremely reactive and even tiny amounts that can have a profound impact on local atmospheric chemistry. They are able to confirm that it was dangerous to attempt to fly through the cloud whereas at the time noone really knew for sure.

The media have referred foolishly to the forces of "mother nature" or being in "the lap of the gods" rather than acknowledge our helplessness, despite this knowledge, in response to divine providence. Those, such as ourselves, who found their travel plans affected by these work of providence should come to see our times are in his hands.

In the book of Job, Elihu asks, "Can any understand the spreadings of the clouds?" (Job 36:29). Elihu well knew something of their formation and composition. "He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them" (Job 26:8). Yet he acknowledged the real limits of his knowledge. He asks does anyone fully know the "balancings of the clouds" (Job 37:16), how millions of tons of water are suspended and sustained in the thinnest parts of the atmosphere even though water is heavier than air. Air currents may keep them aloft for a while, but who controls and directs the wind? There may be various theories based on ever closer analysis but if we are wise we must come to acknowledge and bow to the providence of God.

“Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. Dost thou know when God disposed them [i.e., the winds and clouds, the thunder and lightning, the frost and rain], and caused the light of His cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancing of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:14-16).

"Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: he will not afflict. Men do therefore fear him: he respecteth not any that are wise of heart" (Job 37:23-24). This is the lesson to be drawn from considering the mighty, wise and holy works of providence.

"Men should therefore stand in awe of him, and beware of quarrelling with his conduct, for he regards none who are wise in their own conceit, or who dare contend with their Maker, or presume to censure his proceedings." (John Brown of Haddington)