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Flights halted by volcanic ash in Uruguay and Argentina

altVolcanic ash from Chile’s Puyehue volcano caused more than 30 flights to be suspended in Uruguay and Argentina yesterday. Puyehue disrupted flights earlier this year in South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The Xinhua news agency said that 15 flights in Uruguay, mainly from Iberia, American Airlines, Taca and Aerolineas Argentinas, were cancelled yesterday at the Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo. The Argentine airport authority said more than 20 domestic and international flights were cancelled or delayed at the airports in Buenos Aires.

Uruguay's Chief Aeronautic Meteorologist Laura Vanoli said that a a large ash cloud covered almost all of the country and would remain in the zone on Tuesday and probably part of Wednesday.

"Due to the presence of volcano ashes over the metropolitan area and the decrease of the visibility, delays and cancellations have occurred in the flight schedule," the state-owned air company Aerolineas Argentinas said in a statement.

However by the afternoon air traffic was returning to normal in both Uruguay and Argentina, though with delays due to the postponed flights, AFP reports.

However, Chile's National Geology and Mining Service said that ashes from the Puyehue could affect air travel for months.

Puyehue erupted on June 4 after decades of lying dormant. Flights as far away as Australia were grounded earlier this year because of the ash, which can damage jet engines.

Two weeks after the eruption began in June, the Chilean ash cloud reached South Africa, affecting flights in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London and grounding thousands of travellers. The ash cloud, which travelled right around the world, affected South Africa’s tourism industry. The most recent eruption could have the same effect on South Africa and other countries in the region, but the impact on South Africa is not yet clear.

"There are no signs that the situation is going to change or stabilize in the short term", said Enrique Valdivieso, director of Chile's national service of geology and mining (Sernageomin) in June.

"Fine ash, like we have seen from this latest eruption, could last (in the air) for months. If the ash column continues to measure up to 5.5 miles, it can spread easily. The higher the ash, the more it is blown elsewhere."

Air travel in northern Europe and Britain was hit last May after Iceland's most active volcano at Grimsvotn sent a thick plume of ash and smoke 15.5 miles into the sky.

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

"If we take the case of Chile's Lonquimay volcano in 1989, the plume lingered for about two months," said Felipe Aguilera, a volcanologist at Universidad de Atacama.

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. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.
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