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Space for Heritage


Guess of the day

Which event do you think add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, 3,000 flights or the burning of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

On 21 March 2010 the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland erupted, and the expanding ash cloud grounded over 3,000 flights in Europe. Then on April 20, a major oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the preferred method for dealing with the oil spill is to collect it using skimmers, burning it is also a common option. A major concern in burning this oil is the addition of carbon dioxide (Co2) to the atmosphere during the combustion process.

Which event do you think add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?

Problem 1: The Gulf Oil Spill is predicted to generate 200,000 gallons of crude oil every day. If 50% of this is ultimately burned-off, how many tons/day of carbon dioxide are generated if the combustion of 1 gallon of oil generates 10 kg of carbon dioxide?

Answer: 200,000 gallons/day x (0.50) x (10 kg/ 1 gallon) = 1,000,000 kg/day or 1,000 tons/day

Problem 2: Scientists have estimated that the Iceland volcano generated 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day, and this eruption continued for about 28 days. How many days will the Gulf Oil burn-off have to continue before its carbon dioxide contribution equals that of the total carbon dioxide generated by the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano?

Answer: The volcano generated 15,000 tons/day x 28 days = 420,000 tons of CO2. The Gulf Oil burn-off generates 1,000 tons/day, so the Gulf Oil burn-off would have to continue for 420 days before it equalled the emission of the volcano.

Problem 3: It has been estimated that the European aviation industry generates 344,000 tons of carbon dioxide each day. If 60% of this industry was shut down by the ash cloud from the Eyjafjalla Volcano, how many tons of carbon dioxide would have been produced by airline flights during the 5-day shut-down of the industry?

Answer: 344,000 tons/day x (0.6) x (5 days) = 1 million tons.

Conclusion: The total carbon dioxide generated by the volcano is only 40% of what was generated by the European airline industry during the time it was shut down, and the burn-off of the oil spill will only exceed what the volcano generated if the cleanup continues for over one year, which most experts say is very unlikely. The oil spill cleanup is a small part of the carbon dioxide generated by aviation or by the Icelandic volcano.

Source: NASA Space Math [PDF format - 81.4 KB]