Swan reaches Iceland through volcanic dust

This is a whooper swan video.

From Wildlife Extra:

Whooper swans ignore no fly advice to reach Iceland through the volcanic dust

Fears for whooper swan as it disappears into volcanic cloud

April 2010. Whooper swan Y6K, which is being tracked using satellite technology by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), appeared to be having difficulty on its return migration to Iceland. It was recorded on 16th April heading towards the cloud of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

Concern for geese

Researchers noticed the bird’s position on the online tracking map … Y6K approached Iceland from the south east, which is one of the main landfall areas for swans arriving in the country, but this was very much in line with the fallout from the volcano.

However, although the planes have ceased flying across northern Europe, swan Y6K safely negotiated the outfall from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and made it to Iceland! The south-easterly winds pushing the ash cloud towards Britain meant that Y6K was effectively flying into head winds, which may well explain why it took him 4.5 days to cross from the Outer Hebrides to Iceland. But he finally came in over east Iceland at mid-day on 17th April and spent the next 24 h resting in fields near Höfn. It is difficult to determine the extent to which he changed direction to avoid coming in near the volcano; he should certainly have been able to see the plume whilst still out to sea. But in any event his arrival tracks were well to the east of the volcano!

Given that this is the main goose migration period, there is also concern for the welfare of Greylag Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Light-Bellied Brent Geese, Greenland White-fronted Geese and Greenland Barnacle Geese migrating to or through Iceland at this time.


On Iceland itself, the volcanic eruption is causing concern for the returning waterfowl. A report from WWT’s colleague Dr Olafur Einarsson in Reykjavik confirms that there is dense ash and total darkness to the southeast of the volcano, near the area dubbed “Whooper Airport” because it is where most of the birds land after their migration.

Bird deaths

Dr Einarsson reports that bird deaths have occurred during previous eruptions of other volcanoes in Iceland, when the feeding areas were covered with ash, causing major problems for farmers and birds. Fortunately at the moment the main area affected, between Vik (in the west) and Kirkjubaejarklaustur (in the east), is primarily an area of sand and gravel, leaving internationally important whooper swan staging or breeding sites still suitable for swans.

Whooper swan tracking

Y6K is being tracked as part of WWT’s ongoing conservation work with whooper swans. The project aims to determine the migration routes that the swans take, the heights and speeds at which they fly, and the effects of weather conditions on their flight patterns, and is being carried out in collaboration with COWRIE (Collaborative Offshore Wind Research into the Environment) and DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change).

December 2010: A record number of 1,940 whooper swans have been recorded at WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre earlier this month: here.

April 2010. The air travel chaos across Europe has dented plans reintroduce the European crane into Somerset. The eggs are being collected in Germany as part of the Great Crane Project run jointly by RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company: here.

September 2011: The first whooper swans of the season have arrived at Welney WWT Centre, Norfolk, and at Caerlaverock WWT centre, Scotland, surprising spectators by arriving earlier than before. The record-breaking early arrivals are thought to have caught the northerly tail winds from Iceland, combined with the tempestuous weather conditions that have caused disruption with Hurricane Katia across Britain: here.

Trumpeter and tundra swans: here.

Leftover lead shot is serious trouble for beautiful trumpeter swans, reports Miller McCune: here.

6 thoughts on “Swan reaches Iceland through volcanic dust

  1. Scientists find ancient asphalt domes off California coast

    April, 26 2010


    They paved paradise and, it turns out, actually did put up a parking lot. A big one. Some 700 feet deep in the waters off California’s jewel of a coastal resort, Santa Barbara, sits a group of football field sized asphalt domes unlike any other underwater features known to exist.

    About 35,000 years ago, a series of apparent undersea volcanoes deposited massive flows of petroleum 10 miles offshore. The deposits hardened into domes that were discovered recently by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB).

    Their report- co-authored with researchers from UC Davis, the University of Sydney and the University of Rhode Island- appears online today (April 25) in the Journal Nature Geoscience. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and the Seaver Institute.

    “It was an amazing experience, driving along& and all of a sudden, this mountain is staring you in the face,” said Christopher M. Reddy, director of WHOI’s Coastal Ocean Institute and one of the study’s senior authors, as he described the discovery of the domes using the deep submersible vehicle Alvin. Moreover, the dome was teeming with undersea life. “It was essentially an oasis,” he said, “almost like an artificial reef.”

    What really piqued the interest of Reddy- a marine geochemist who studies oil spills- was the chemical composition of the dome: “very unusual asphalt material,” he said. “There aren’t that many opportunities to study oil that’s been sitting around on the bottom of the ocean for 35,000 years.”

    Reddy’s unique chance came courtesy of UCSB earth scientist and lead author David L. Valentine, who first came upon the largest of the structures- named Il Duomo- and brought back a chunk of the brittle, black material in 2007 from an initial dive in Alvin, which WHOI operates for the US Navy. Valentine and Reddy were on a cruise aboard the WHOI-operated research vessel Atlantis, following up on undersea mapping survey by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the work of UCSB earth scientist Ed Keller.

    “The largest [dome] is about the size of two football fields, side by side and as tall as a six-story building,” Valentine said. Alvin’s robotic arm snapped off a piece of the unusual formation, secured it in a basket and delivered it to Reddy aboard Atlantis.

    “I was sleeping,” Reddy chuckled. “Somebody woke me up and wanted me to look at the rocks and test them.”

    It turned out to be quite an awakening. “I was amazed at how easy it was to break,” Reddy recalls, “which confirmed it wasn’t solid rock” and lent credence to Keller’s theory that these structures might be made of asphalt.

    Without access to the sophisticated equipment in his Woods Hole lab, Reddy employed a “25-cent glass tube, the back of a Bic pen and a little nail polish remover” to analyze the crusty substance. He used the crude tools like a mortar and pestle to grind the rock, “and literally within several minutes, it became a thick oil.”

    “This immediately said to me that this was asphalt,” Reddy said. “And I remember turning to Dave [Valentine] and saying, ‘We’ve got to back. Please take me back there'” to the dome.

    After making some schedule changes, Valentine cleared the way for him and Reddy to take Alvin back to several sites in 2007. This work also set the stage for a follow-up study in September 2009, when the investigators returned to the domes with Alvin and the Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (AUV) Sentry to study the unique structures. They were joined by, among others, WHOI collaborators Dana Yoerger, Richard Camilli and Robert K. Nelson and Oscar Pizarro, now at the University of Sydney.

    “With that combination, we were able to go in and do very detailed mapping of the site and very detailed sampling at the seafloor,” Valentine said. Using mass spectrometers and radiocarbon dating in their respective laboratories, the scientists were able to confirm the nature and age of the domes.

    “To me, as an oil-spill chemist, this was very exciting,” said Reddy. “I got to find out what oil looks like after& 35,000 years.”

    What it looked like was “incredibly weathered,” said Reddy. “That means nature had taken away a lot of compounds. These mounds of black material were the last remnants of oil that exploded up from below. To see nature doing this on its own was an unbelievable finding.”

    A few asphalt-like undersea structures have been reported, says Valentine, “but not anything exactly like these& no large structures like we see here.” He estimates that the dome structures contain about 100,000 tons of residual asphalt and compares them to an underwater version of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, complete with the fossils of ancient animals.

    The researchers are not sure exactly why sea life has taken up residence around the asphalt domes, but one possibility is that because the oil has become benign over the years that some creatures are able to actually feed off it and get energy from it. They may also be “thriving” on tiny holes in the dome areas that release minute amounts of methane gas, Reddy says.

    The scientists plan to continue studying the domed structures. “We have some very fundamental questions that remain,” Valentine says. “It would be nice to know what is going on deep down under these things.

    “One future direction is to try and actually drill into them,” he says. “We also need to turn it over to some geologists to figure out where this oil is really coming from. More fundamentally, we’re going to look at the actual degradation of the oil by microorganisms and maybe even see what organisms are trapped in this& very much like the La Brea Tar Pits.”

    From a chemical point of view, Reddy says he will continue to probe the question of exactly which of the chemicals that make up the domes “stayed around” all these years.

    “Instead of this taking place at a refinery, nature used a variety of its own tools,” he said, to manufacture the asphalt substance. With some heating and a few chemical tweaks, he added, this is essentially the same material that paves highways and parking lots. After all, it is California.


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