back to article Mystic Met closed Europe with computer model

So the UK Met Office closed European civilian airspace on the basis of one computer model, which it didn't check against reality. We already knew that the great volcano shut-down was based on a model, but we didn't know how little atmospheric sampling was performed to test the simulation against the atmosphere. It turns out only …

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europe seems ok

have a look here to see where all the planes are currently flying - UK looks a bit bare

http://www.radarvirtuel.com/

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Here be planes

Funny that there's so many planes up in the rest of Europe that had previously been grounded, including them flying over UK airspace, yet UK airspace remains closed presumably only to UK planes?

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In Mexico

I've never heard of Mexico City's airport closing because Popocatepetetete... Popocatapippel... "El Popo" was erupting. I remember driving to work one day and getting the garage attendent to clean my car. When I went to go home it looked worse than it had in the morning... and yet the planes were still flying.

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Dead Vulture

Civilian airspace shut down?

Hardly. People I know have been able to charter private flights to/from Europe. Civil airspace only appears to be shut down above a certain height - the height where commercial airliners fly.

I wonder if any other uncorroborated information appears in this story ...

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> Civilian airspace shut down?

Well, there's a major VFR route over my house in Surrey and I heard stuff all traffic this weekend, so it cretainly seems as if, at the very least its spectacularly reduced.

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Wot the UK NOTAMS say

The NOTAMS[1] have said since Thursday that IFR[2] flights are not being accepted by the London FIR[3]. However, VFR[4] flights have never been stopped in either the London or Scottish FIRs and may proceed at their own risk.

In other words in England and Wales planes that operate by looking out the window can fly but head-in-the-cockpit flying on instruments isn't permitted. Of course, this still won't get you to the parts of Europe where all aircraft are grounded. This has included Holland and Germany.

The height limitation comes because VFR rules don't apply above 19,500 ft - flight above that is all IFR.

[1] NOTAM

Notice To Airmen - notification of hazards or temporary changes to the rules of the air, always with a validity period.

[2] IFR

Instrument Flight Rules - flying on instruments under air traffic control

[3] FIR

Flight Information Region - a block of airspace with a single control point

[4] VFR

Visual Flight Rules - flying by looking out the window, not necessarily under air traffic control. This is how most GA aircraft, gliders and microlites operate

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FAIL

Colour me surprised ...

"So the UK Met Office closed European civilian airspace on the basis of one computer model, which it didn't check against reality"

So no different from their apparent weather forecasting strategy then ...

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Easy now

Yes, it's a model - short of populating the upper atmostphere with an array of sensors, that was always going to be the case.

Does it fall short of reality? Yes, it's a model.

Were "mistakes made" and will "lessons be learned"? Yes. It's a model.

Does it err heavily on the side of caution? Yes, because erring the other way involves probable loss of life (http://tinyurl.com/y4mmqqa)

I appreciate it may not be as accurate as everyone wants, but I'd be interested to know how accurate it needs to be before it's above criticism. Given the single event they've had to model from and the consequences if they get it wrong, this article sounds a little churlish to be honest.

Never let it be said the Reg let an atmospheric model pass without criticism.

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What's more important though

Is that The Register gets another chance to force the phrase "Mystic Met". No one is buying it, but that twittercrat one was quite good though.

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Re: Easy now

"Given the single event they've had to model from and the consequences if they get it wrong, this article sounds a little churlish to be honest."

Since I have pretensions to being a scientist, I'd say that "Given the consequences if they get it wrong, they should steer clear of models based on a single event and perform some bleedin' experiments.". But no. Faced with a continent-wide shutdown costing Lord knows what, clearly sending up a few balloons is an absurd idea.

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Boffin

untitled

So, who wants to join me on a test flight to see if it is safe or not?

Anyone got an ash-density-measuring device left over from the last time this happened? (I have plenty of round-pin convertors, since it was a little while back...)

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Anonymous Coward

I would

I wouldn't mind to take an aeroplane up and perform measurements and stuff, but something more like a glider than an airliner, and I'd stay over land. Why? Because without motors you can still land perfectly safely, though it's a bit of a pain with a boeing or an airbus (but it's been done). In fact all my flying experience is in gliders, without motors. So yeah, I'll come along, no sweat.

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Anonymous Coward

Damned if they do, damned if they don't

I'd rather than they didn't risk a single plane crash as a result of ash ingestion

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The airlines should be careful ...

What is inexplicable to me is just how shortsighted the airline companies are being. If just one airliner has any problems whatsoever over the next few days, it *will* be attributed to ash by the gutter press. If that happens, the losses of revenue to date will be small compared to the resulting loss caused by people walking (or more accurately, running) away from flying in their thousands, and for the foreseeable future. There is no security theatre that can be put in place to deal with this situation, as happens when bombs or whatever can be implicated. The travelling public are being told to trust the airlines and the governments that it actually IS safe - and the evidence is not that strong one way or the other.

I'm very risk-tolerant when it comes to flying, but I'd be thinking hard before I got on a plane at the moment, because there isn't anything on which to base my risk assessment. The fact that the Minister for Transport went into a closed meeting with representatives of the airlines yesterday, and then came out saying "Oh, everything is really alright" just fills me with suspicion.

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BBC: Ash plane 'finds a lot of muck' in UK airspace

I assume this is part of El Reg's attempt to discredit the Met Office and anyone else involved in climate change and, although the BBC are part of the conspiracy too, I thought this was interesting...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8626625.stm

"A high-tech plane with sensors calibrated to find volcanic ash has landed after finding 'a lot of muck' in UK airspace.

Aeronautical engineer Dr Guy Gratton of Airborne Atmospheric Measurements, said he would advise against flying passenger jets in those conditions. "

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Coat

Now then......

Not the same reliance on modelling that their climate change forecasts are based on?

Fancy that!

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The Met. did not shutdown the airspace

The Met. publish a model that predicts ash movement which they provide to the civil aviation authorities, who then make a judgement on the information supplied against their standards. They freely admit they can't tell the particle distribution, and that the samples they could take proved accurate.

Airspace is big, and their resources small, would you rather a few airlines had financial difficulties, or a few airliners plunged into the Atlantic. I guess the airlines prefer the latter because they are insured.

Also we have become heavily dependent on one form of aviation transport model, one wonders how much BA wish they still had a fleet of Viscounts for short haul, they may be slower, and fly lower, but they wouldn't be grounded. And isn't their any reason why the airlines didn't jump up and say, give us the tools and we'll fly some sampling flights. i understand the Finns have two F14s that did and are now in need of a severe engine refurb.

Yet again we learn, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

I'm the one with peaceful, and above all quiet back garden where bird twitter is unbroken by aircraft. It's heaven.

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Fine

You try and accurately track finely dispersed silica particles at 30,000ft.

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global warming??

Same models they use for global warming induced by CO2. They can’t get right something you can see like ash, imagine what happens with CO2.

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FAIL

Er, no.

CLimate models are _very_ different from weather models. This would have been based on weather models.

And, guess what, you _can't_ see the ash - even if you fly through it. Neither can the planes' radar. Which is why it is so (potentially) danberous.

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Anonymous Coward

re: Er, no

"And, guess what, you _can't_ see the ash - even if you fly through it."

The two prior issues with ash were at night, at the densities that cause problems you can very clearly see it during the day time (if the clouds are brown, you don't fly through them). For point of reference as to how trace amounts of ash have no real impact on operation take a look at Mt St Helens and the scope of its ash cloud during the 80's

The reason NATS have shut down IFR service is because the internationally agreed standard, one which they can override, is that there should be no detectable ash and was never intended to close a continent. It exists to allow for the rerouteing of flights around possible issues much as they do with storms and lots of other weather events. NATS took its advice from the MET as did everyone else.

Additionally the MET effectively did close EU airspace. The MET is the designated volcano centre for western Europe so all national bodies in this part of the world take the lead from them in terms of what is going on. When they finally revealed the source of the data rather than just an advisory most of the countries started opening up their airspace again because it is clearly a crock of shit.

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FAIL

Epic Fail

Civilian planes don't have any radar. And actually planes can see the worst of it, and it is only the worst of it that causes problems. A number of airline test flights have flown around (but not through) the ash cloud to see whether they can detect the limits of it, and they can. The Finns (if I remember correctly) flew a couple of military jets through the middle of the cloud and got the engine problems that you would expect from coating your turbines and tail pipe with glass. It is easy to detect and easy to avoid, but the UK government (and a few European ones) have utterly over-reacted primarily to make it look like they are doing something before the election.

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Re : Epic Fail

"Civilian planes don't have any radar"

I assume the poster meant weather radar - which they do have.

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Go

Maybe ...

Maybe it's time someone made a BOINC-application (preferrably one that utilize CAL, OpenCL or DirectCompute) so we "end users" can help?

//Svein

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Err...

We know you don't like the Met office, but to accuse them of shutting down airspace is poor reporting at best... It is NATS who control the airspace and control if it is open or not, they are merely acting upon predictions of where the ash will go and at what height based on models AND observations by the Met Office, NERC etc. alongside the recomendations of the aircraft manufacturers who are currently saying that no ash is acceptable for a jet engine to fly through.

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Also worth adding

In addition to the Met Office, NATS were getting information from the engine manufacturers who were telling them they could not guarantee their engines' performance under these conditions.

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Pirate

Sorry, that's not under warranty

Like anything else, the airlines do a cost - risk analysis and don't want to:

1) Do more maintenance than normal (overhaul after every trans-atlantic flight for next few days).

2) Violate any remaining warranty on all the engines of any planes servicing those flights.

3) Buy the extra fuel to circumvent the ash clouds, or extra fuel to compensate for any decreased efficiency from any "glazing".

The airline passenger insurance companies have already denied all claims for extra accomodations, meals, and other required expenses for spending extra time in a foreign country: Sorry - Act of God. SOL.

And they can take the moral high road claiming safety is top concern.

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WTF?

but

I was trying to say this last Friday on The Reg but my comments were not making it past the moderator who probably thought I was mad for underestimating the so-called volcanic ash cloud.

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Model Accuracy

Lets have a look at the Met Office's

range of products:-

24 Hour weather forecast - maybe 50% correct

5 day weather forecast - probably 20% correct

Seasonal weather forecast - at best 10% correct

50 year climate change forecast - 200% correct, so we are told.

Where do you think the ash prediction model fits in to that league table of mediocrity?

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I know where you got those numbers from...

You made them up.

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LPF

OK lets put it this way

Would the Reg perfer UK business to lose a couple of hundred million, being extra cautious

or fly a plane full of passengers and have it drop out of the Sky onto a city?

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Coat

hmmm

depends on the city

mines the one with the parachute

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Grenade

You are asking thereg this question? Seriously???

LOL

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FAIL

Well, what do you expect...

...from an organisation that predicted a barbeque summer last year, and a mild drier-than-usual winter?

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Troll

Really?

A supposedly trusted scientific entity makes large-scale environmental predictions based on data gathered through a less-than-rigorous analysis that has little relation to reality .......and we're supposed to be surprised?

It all sounds so familiar, somehow..........

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Anonymous Coward

The Met is too busy....

with computer models to do proper forecasting.

This doesn't really surprise me since the same thing is happening with weather forecasting and they keep screwing that up for the same reason, decreasing number of world wide weather stations and increasing reliance on computer models.

The end result is the same, completely bogus forecasting, a broken clock seems to get the time right more often...

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WTF?

Huh?

What is "proper" forecasting then? Looking at a bit of damp seaweed? Asking gran if her joints ache?

Oh looking at weather stations: that would tell you what the weather _is_, not what it is _going_ to be; did you miss the "forecasting" bit?

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Pint

proper models?

Proper models my arse, they're all playing Quake 4 on million pound computers.

Well known Factoid number 33:

percentage success of "tomorrow's weather will be the same as yesterdays" = 70%

percentage success of Met office = 60%

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Global warming

Probably the same model it uses for global warming and about as reliable.

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Predict vs Measure ...

Ok, so who's volunteering to fly over the Atlantic , safe in the knowledge that ash hasn't fallen on Biggin Hill yet ?

The MO need to predict _in_advance_. As the joke goes, prediction is hard, especially of the future. And its easy to criticize if its not your prediction that causes hundreds of deaths.

Yes, measuring the density of the ash is a good thing. That requires specialised aircraft (adapted radar, particle protection on the engines, etc.) of which there aren't many. Aircraft that have flown through the ash (the Finnish air force) demonstrate how much damage it does.

Sure, some aircraft have flown at safe levels. They took a guess, and flying with the predictions of the Met services (and no passengers) landed safely. But tens of thousands of flights take place over Europe every day. How confident are you that, with a poorly tested model (not many volcanoes around here, you see), you can predict paths for aircraft so that not one in 50,000 flights gets hit ?

Its easy to claim over-zealous when its not you who has to make the decision. Meanwhile, airlines that decided it wasn't economically worth investing in dust-proofing their planes are looking at someone to sue to recoup their losses, and pick on the Met Office.

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Paris Hilton

Enough people seemed to be concerned about this...

... to issue a flight ban. If testing was ineffective, it could be because they're not called upon to regularly check density levels of volcanic ash rather than some percieved ineptitude. They probably are struggling, but I think I'd rather err on the side of caution than let people go whizzing off into the wide blue yonder, shortly before plummeting to earth Wile E Coyote style.

Considering the aircraft manufacturers are unwilling to certify their planes for flight through the ash clouds it isn't just the Met being cautious either.

Paris because she's still open to traffic.

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And so the second guessing starts...

... as someone with an axe to grind sticks his two-pennorth in.

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Its a Consensus

All the models point to it and the science is settled, well apart from the UK where all our surposed science teams are showing to be a bunch of amateurs that believe in models more than fatcs.

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Met office need to get out more

So lets see Ash in the air can cripple civil aviation, and lose it zillions a day.

Add to that that the RAF can't fly as they all use fancy jet engines. So that the air space undefended then.

What is the response, one aircraft hastily fitted with sensors that flew 4 flights the first of which didn't even find the cloud as they were using Met office data as to where it would be.

Meanwhile the Met office dust off some software they developed in 1986 to track fallout.

Well I suppose we are lucky that the cloud of ash wasn't radioactive this time, otherwise the whole country would be shut by the Met office.

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OK, we get it.

You don't like the anthropogenic climate change theory. You don't like institutions that appear to support it. You'll have a go at every opportunity, granted. But do yourself (and everyone else) a favour and PLEASE try to keep a bit of perspective; have a look at http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/04/16/340727/pictures-finnish-f-18-engine-check-reveals-effects-of-volcanic.html . Now tell us all whether you'd be just fine with flying in a plane whose engines were in a similar state to those illustrated in that article. Didn't think so, because any other answer would indicate that you were stark slathering swivel-eyed windowlicking bugfuck nuts. The Met Office, with limited resources, issued advice that was extremely cautious, knowing that it would be used to determine whether flights carrying thousands of people might be put at risk. You know what? They still put a shitload more effort in and obtained more data than a publicity stunt with Willie Walsh did. NATS took their advice on board, and as noted above NATS took the decision, and quite rightly adopted a highly bcautious view also.

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Alert

When you're right, you're right

I am admittedly a sceptic of anthropogenic climate change - but, as the saying goes, I may be stoopid but I'm not THAT frickin' stoopid.

My little lady is supposed to be joining me to spend the rest of her life with me out here in the east this weekend - but I would rather wait a few more weeks than have her drop out of the sky chasing me halfway around the world

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Stop

Errrrrmmm...

.... I think you are actually making the same point as the journalist - i.e. what was needed was evidence. No model will work without the figures to be plugged in to it. It seems to me that the Finnish Airforce were put into the position of fucking two engines because no-one else was producing data. This article clearly states that a few balloons and use of planes flying at lower altitudes might have produced some hard data. Now, maybe it is not just the Met Office that could/should have done that, but it certainly seems to me that the Met office has been derelict in its duty, and that the whole thing needs a damn good shake-up to clearly define what its role is, and how it is going to do it (and climate-change research is not part of its role).

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M7S
Bronze badge

"Lend them a few balloons"

The ones those four chaps had on "Britain's got Talent" last Saturday are now definitely spare, and the sooner they are sent to float far far away, the better.

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A question of risk

The solution is quite simple - get the airlines, crew, cargo shippers and passengers to sign a mutual disclaimer that absolves each party from responsibility in the event of a crash resulting from flying through ash clouds. Aircrews get a bonus and anyone willing to fly themselves or their cargo do so entirely at their own risk. The only other danger is to residents in the path of the falling aircraft but chances are it will be over sea or lightly inhabited areas when flying at ash cloud heights. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

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Just one uncorroborated source?

I know the Met Office is a favoured target of El Reg but a bit of background checking wouldn't go amiss. For example, ESA have also issued a model based incorporating satellite observations - http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMKDU9MT7G_index_0.html

And it was NATS that decided to shutdown UK airspace as they state, there is no threshold at which volcanic ash is acceptable for aircraft - (Too many sources to list, here's a google search instead) http://www.google.com/search?q=nats+threshold+volcanic+ash

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