EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World News

April 21, 2010

Lengthy eruption would put economy under a cloud

AMSTERDAM — Even as Europe's dormant airports sputter back to life, prudent travelers and businessmen should ask: What if Iceland's volcano erupts again?

Because it might. Over and over again, for weeks, perhaps months, scientists say.

The last eruption from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in 1821 lasted off-and-on for 13 months — but back then there were no jet engines to get clogged by ash.

What should the world brace for if ash clouds waft over Europe intermittently for six months or a year, repeatedly closing airports with just a few hours' warning?

A devastated tourist industry. Less out-of-season produce at supermarkets. Businesses forced to improvise. And higher prices on just about everything.

Europe's recovery from the economic recession likely would be set back to zero. Banks and governments, worried about runaway inflation, could tighten credit. Railways and roads would be overloaded with freight and people needing more reliable means of travel.

A BMW plant in Germany and a Nissan plant in Japan were forced to close temporarily this week because the ash prevented the arrival of parts shipments. Prolonged disruptions to supply chains could have a profound effect on manufacturing and global trade.

The psychological effects of the uncertainty could be numbing. As long as the volcano keeps rumbling, few people are likely to risk long delays camped out at airports or trapped in overpriced hotels.

Some people may feel more isolated, unable to escape on a cheap last-minute air ticket. They may think twice about visiting Grandma if it means six hours on a train rather than an hour in the sky. Booking a seat on the intercity express may be a lot harder.

Optimists will see benefits in a slower pace of life and the excuse to pass up yet another business conference. Vacations will be closer to home.

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