Dr Claire Horwell, of the University’s Institute of Hazard and Risk Research, has developed a sieving technique which analyses the grain size of volcanic ash to determine its possible threat to many thousands of humans affected by the estimated 70 volcanic eruptions which happen worldwide each year.
Her research, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, could help shape emergency response plans following a volcanic eruption and cut the possible risk to human health posed by breathing in fine particles of ash.
Although medical research is on-going, volcanic ash is thought to trigger attacks of acute respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis, in people who already have the diseases. It also has the potential to cause chronic diseases such as the lung disease silicosis.
Medical studies to assess the risk from the ash following an eruption can take years, but if ash is too large to enter the lung it cannot be a hazard.
In many countries only basic sieves are available for assessing the grain size of volcanic ash, but until now sieving could not determine if particles were fine enough to enter the lung.
To solve this problem Dr Horwell used state-of-the-art laser technology to analyse the grain size of samples from around the world.
She found there was a strong link between the ratios of different-sized particles present. She then used this link to develop a formula so the amount of breathable particles could be estimated by sieving.
This sieving technique could allow emergency response teams to quickly and cheaply measure the potential risk to health without the need for high-tech equipment. Depending on the risk, measures could be put in place to protect people living close-by.
Volcanic ash can be present in the air following an eruption for many months, often being remobilised by wind or human activities such as driving.
A number of volcanic eruptions are reported worldwide each year. Last week a volcano on the Yemeni island of Jabal al-Tair, in the Red Sea, erupted for the first time since the nineteenth century sending ash 1,000ft into the air as well as spewing out lava.
In September an eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai, in Tanzania, eastern Africa, produced ashfall which lasted about 12 hours in the village of Engare Sero, while the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, which began in 1995, continues today.
Dr Horwell, who is also co-ordinator of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, said: “We need a rapid way to assess the hazard to human health from volcanic ash.
“This technique means that scientists can sieve the ash then very quickly work out what percentage of the material could enter the lung.
“If only a very small percentage of the ash is capable of entering the lung then it is unlikely to present a health hazard, but if there is a high percentage then you would want to issue dust masks or think about evacuating people from the surrounding area.”
Dr Horwell is also recommending that a network of ash collection sites be set up prior to an eruption so that a rapid assessment of health hazards can be made across a region.
Dr Peter Baxter, at the Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, said: “Volcanologists have traditionally reported on the coarser grain sizes of volcanic ash for their particular purposes rather than the finer material which is the most important for assessing the hazard to respiratory health of populations affected by ash falls in a volcanic eruption.
“This paper will encourage volcanologists to provide a fuller profile of the grain sizes of erupted ash on a routine basis and, most importantly, to be more able to support multi-disciplinary responses to the human impacts of ash falls in future volcanic eruptions, especially in developing countries.”
Water cooling for the Earth's crust
22.11.2017 | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)
Retreating permafrost coasts threaten the fragile Arctic environment
22.11.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
22.11.2017 | Business and Finance
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy