The Krakatoa volcano erupted in 1883. Before that, no one knew that something was happening thousands of feet above our heads. The air currents that years later we would use to fly better. That’s how Krakatoa affected airplanes.
Jenni Barclay is Professor of Volcanology at the University of East Anglia, UK. She says: “The eruption of Krakatoa released an enormous amount of magma to the surface. It was over a very short period of time. Water got into its system. It turned into steam and added an immense amount of extra energy.”
Global network of observers
The result was that the volcano concentrated so much energy that it ejected its charge all over the place. “Some of the material, especially the finer particles, went up very high, about 80 kilometers,” he said. The telegraph relayed the news. A volcano had made an island in Indonesia disappear and this aroused much interest. The Royal Society for the Advancement of Natural Science in London involved the public in its activity. It asked citizens to send in their descriptions of changes they had seen in the sky related to this.
Letters and drawings came in from far and wide. The experts realized that something was carrying the ashes of Krakatoa to very distant places. In a matter of a day its ashes had already been seen thousands of kilometers away. It meant that the wind was moving at high speed. The observer network made it possible to track what are known today as jet streams.
Information for pilots
These are very fast air currents flowing through the middle of the atmosphere. In winter it is responsible for wet and cold conditions and especially for low pressure changes. Jet streams sweep across the northern hemisphere from west to east. The way the Earth rotates on its axis causes the winds to move in that direction. Their average speed ranges from 160 to 240 kilometers per hour.
But how did Krakatoa affect airplanes? Airplanes take advantage of these jet streams to save fuel and go faster. That’s why the trip from New York to London usually takes one to two hours less than the reverse journey. At the same time, pilots must be careful not to encounter an oncoming jet stream. This avoids accidents.