There can't be anyone left who's not aware of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland. Activity started on 20 March with a 'curtain of fire' fissure eruption at Fimmvörðuháls, which sits in between two glaciers, then entered a second phase on 14h April with what's known as a phreatomagmatic eruption actually under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap. A phreatomagmatic eruption is one where magma reacts explosively with a water source, be it ground water, snow or ice, resulting in a plume of ash and steam.
I've been following the eruption closely since 20th March, mainly because my degree was in geology and volcanoes have always fascinated me. I love a good Hawai'i style eruption! When it was just a fissure eruption at Fimmvörðuháls it was basically a neat little tourist attraction, but things are much more serious now. This new phreatomagmatic eruption is a different kettle of North Atlantic cod, primarily because of the airspace closures that the ash cloud is causing.
Disrupted air travel is not just affecting tourists who are stuck abroad or whose holiday has been cancelled, it's also affecting business travel and, much more importantly, airfreight movements. Airspace closure of a day or so is one thing, but it has been six days and that is going to cause some significant problems not just for the airlines who are currently haemorrhaging cash, but for any business relying on goods transported by air, whether as part of a just-in-time supply chain or not. We may soon start to notice this as perishables like fruit and veg become restricted to locally-available and in-season produce.
It seems unlikely to me that this current eruption is going to cease any time soon. It is, of course, impossible to predict with any certainty what is going to happen, but historically Eyjafjallajökull has shown itself capable of prolonged (two year) eruptions and we need to accept that we might just be at the beginning of such a period of volcanicity.
If that's the case, then the main factor we need to keep an eye on is the weather. At the moment, the winds are bringing the ash right towards Europe, with Norway and the UK bearing the brunt of it. If the weather changes and a southerly starts to push the ash plume up towards polar regions, for example, then hopefully that'll clear the air and we'll be able to start flying. However, I think we should at the very least start to prepare for a future in which air travel is unreliable and where we suffer ongoing sporadic airspace closures. Even if the weather changes enough that we can start to fly again mid-week, there's no guarantee that we're not going to see more bans in future.
What does this have to do with social media? Well, if I were a CIO right now, I'd be looking at making sure that everyone in the company has access to video conferencing software such as iChat or Skype, particularly those who usually travel a lot. I'd also be looking at encouraging clients, partners and customers to ensure that they too have these tools installed. I would also provide everyone in my company with IM, would install one of the better wiki platforms and start encouraging people to ramp down their business travel and use social media and video calls instead.
Now, admittedly if I was a CIO I'd be doing that anyway. When people have a choice they tend to choice the status quo over change, but necessity is the mother of invention adoption. Continued sporadic air travel bans will take choice away, so it is in business' best interests to prepare now for what could be a long period of unreliable travel.
Business travel - such as for meetings, conferences, training - is something we've taken for granted. But we haven't always done business that way and there's no reason why we have to rely on face-to-face meetings now. Social media can step in to fill the gap, providing a better solution than conference calls alone. I wonder if Eyjafjallajökull is going to force the wider adoption of social tools as air travel once again becomes rare.