Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 11:37 UK

How you would solve a problem like Eyjafjallajokull

Mike's volcano diagram
Magazine reader Mike's detailed proposal is peer-reviewed below

The Magazine asked boffins for their most outlandish - but still scientifically-possible - solutions to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. Now the experts cast their eyes over readers' suggestions.

Our article in which scientists launched theoretically plausible, if practically utterly unlikely, suggestions for tackling the Eyjafjallajokull eruption provoked an energetic response from readers.

Now Prof Gillian Foulger of Durham University's earth science department and Dr David Rothery, a volcanologist with the Open University, offer your ideas the full weight of scientific examination.

All we need is a giant carbon-nano-tube. Placing the tube over the top of the volcano, internal turbines could be used to generate electrical power. The remaining exhaust could be funnelled out into space (see diagram above) in such a way as to propel the Earth away from the Sun to mitigate the effects of global warming by reducing the incidental power received from the sun. Mike

GF: Nice picture! Your idea actually has some things in common with generation of energy from geothermal heat - drill a hole into hot rock and get a blast of hot steam out to drive turbines. However, in the case of an eruption like the one ongoing in Iceland, the sheer scale of the blast of volcanic debris from the vent makes the engineering feat you suggest impossible. The vent is simply too wide and the eruption too powerful and too hot to be able to contain, even if it were possible to get anyone or anything near it.

Diagram by Stephen Fyfe

I'd like to propose towing the Volcano further north and away from prevailing winds. I do realise it would need a lot of ships and quite a lot of rope. Stephen Fyfe, Giffnock, Glasgow

DR: Having inspected the engineering diagram (right), I can see one major flaw: only the top of the volcano has been successfully towed away by the boat. This has removed the confining-pressure from the subterranean magma supply below the volcano, and this will now explode with tremendous force producing an ash cloud rising to a 60km altitude. How are you going to explain that when you get home?

I suggest that you spray it in nitrogen to freeze the volcano thus stopping the smoke and solving the problem. Oliver Ford, 11, St Austell, England

GF: I presume you mean liquid nitrogen? That is very cold stuff, of course, and certainly would freeze lava. The problem is that such an impossibly enormous amount of it would be needed that there is probably not enough in stores in the world to do the job. Also, the volcano is far too dangerous to fly over, and even if unmanned drones were flown over, they could not possibly carry enough liquid nitrogen to do the trick. But a neat idea, just the same!

Graphic by Michelle Taylor-Cohen

I suggest that we all go outside at a pre-agreed time, point our vacuum cleaners skywards and turn them on, thereby sucking the ash out of the sky. It can then be safely disposed of in household refuse sacks. I attach a diagram explaining in detail how this might work. Michelle Taylor-Cohen

DR: That might work, Michelle. I think you'd need quite a long hose on your Hoover to reach the ash, and you'd also have to be careful not to breathe in any ash that was sucked down close to you by mistake. Careful how you shake the bag out into the bin afterwards too!

Why can't they put a massive filter over the volcano to catch all the ash? Freddie Ball, Windsor

GF: No pilot would volunteer to fly one in, even if such filters existed, which they don't.

How about we get everyone in China to blow West and drive the ash back? Calum McDougal, Glasgow

DR: Ha ha! Ever heard of the Coriolis force? The Earth's rotation means that, in the northern hemisphere, wind directions become rotated clockwise. Depending how hard the Chinese blew, they'd have to blow south or even southeast if they wanted their puff to hit Iceland. Oh, and I can't work out which way the Chinese draught would be headed when it reaches Iceland. It might actually send the ash our way by mistake.

Maybe instead of trying to tame the volcano, we should try to harness its energy. This would be much more beneficial to the planet as a whole. Paul, Amersham

GF: An extremely sensible idea, and we are - it is called geothermal energy. A project in Britain that is currently preparing to tap heat from old volcanic rock in Cornwall can be read about here.

As the volcano is under a glacier there should be no shortage of fresh water, neither is there a shortage of energy so... Using the heat of the volcano to drive a turbine, to power a pump to spray (local, melted glacier) water into the ash plume from short range. Chris, London

DR: Good use of all the local water! This would certainly cause the ash particles to stick together and fall to the ground more quickly. Iceland generates most of its power from underground heat, but they haven't mastered the knack of tapping an erupting volcano yet.



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