June 18, 2011 / 4:05 AM / 8 years ago

Force of Chile's volcanic eruption eases, ash spews

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The force of a volcanic eruption in Chile that has spewed an ash cloud that caused air traffic chaos around the globe has eased slightly, emergency officials said on Friday.

Sheep covered with ash from a volcanic eruption in Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain are seen in the Argentine resort town of Villa La Angostura June 16, 2011. REUTERS/Osvaldo Peralta

Ash from a volcano in Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain that erupted on June 4 after decades lying dormant has forced the sporadic cancellation of hundreds of flights in recent weeks, from Argentina to Australia.

Experts say fine ash particles belched into the air and carried around the world by winds could potentially continue to hamper air travel for months. But a decrease in the force of the eruption raises hopes the eruption is stabilizing.

“The volcanic activity has eased, but it continues to be a moderate eruption,” a spokeswoman at national emergency office ONEMI told Reuters.

The eruption sent a towering ash cloud soaring up to 20 miles (30 km) into the atmosphere, though the cloud has since shrunk to just a few kilometers in height.

The eruption has grounded flights as far away as New Zealand because of the ash, which can damage jet engines, and the chaos in South America has buffeted airlines including Chile’s LAN, Brazil’s TAM and Gol.

LAN briefly interrupted domestic Chilean flights south to Patagonia on Friday due to to the ash, before resuming services.

Air travel in northern Europe and Britain was hit last month after Iceland’s most active volcano at Grimsvotn sent a thick plume of ash and smoke 15.5 miles (25 km) into the sky.

The Chilean eruption has also coated picture-postcard tourist towns in southern Argentina with gray ash, impacting livestock and deterring visitors during the lucrative winter season.

In April last year, the eruption of another Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, led to 100,000 canceled flights, affecting 10 million people at a cost of $1.7 billion.

Chilean volcanoes tend to spew more ash than European volcanoes like Iceland’s, because the magma is thicker and rises more slowly. As a result more ash is expelled.

It was the latest in a series of volcanic eruptions in Chile in recent years. Chile’s Chaiten volcano erupted spectacularly in 2008 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing molten rock and a vast cloud of ash that reached the stratosphere.

The Llaima volcano, one of South America’s most active, erupted in 2008 and 2009.

Chile’s chain of about 2,000 volcanoes is the world’s second-largest after Indonesia’s. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.

(Reporting by Simon Gardner and Alexis Krell; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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