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The news is full of stories about the ash from the Icelandic volcano and its impact on flights across Europe. For 4 days now flights have been grounded, effecting the mobility of both people and cargo.

The images associated with theses stories began with these awe inspiring plumes of ash cloud, which were followed quickly with satellite images of the spreading cloud across Europe, and data visualisation maps of grounded flights. (alongside the images of people at airports, fish rotting while waiting for export etc).

These clouds remind me of Ruskins descriptions of ‘The storm cloud of the nineteenth century’, clouds that were blacker and more persistent, industrial clouds that were different to any he had seen, or seen recorded ever before. Ruskin’s cloud descriptions  are related to industrial rather than natural effects on the weather, but the link perhaps is also the portent of clouds that are vehicles for particles that are not usually there, and the weather systems that, out of our control, link us in very physical ways with locations across the world.

The fear that the particles in these clouds could actually stall the engine of an airplane and potentially cause a crash brings a precariousness of flight back, a suspension of our belief and confidence in the technologies of flight, and a question over what has become almost a right and an assumption of easy air travel.

I’ve been thinking and writing recently about how weather and cloud effects navigation, particularly in small aircraft when flying with visual flight rules. And looking at accounts of forced landings and crashes over the Pennine hills in the north of england due to bad weather, particularly during WW2. Clouds have often been associated with getting lost and with danger in these situations.

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