Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Ashes, Roses and the Routine we Take for Granted

It is difficult to get fresh, organic, Kenyan roses these days in London. Beside the roses a number of other goods are getting rare or have already vanished from the shelfs in UK and other north European shops. It is not that customers would buy more of those goods, but it is impossible to import due to the closure of air traffic in large parts of Europe due to the vulcano Eyjafjallajokull spitting a massive cloud of ashes into the sky. Air traffic closure in northern Europe is now in its fifth day and symptoms are spreading beyond the airline industry. Affecting everyday life situation are most likely to be observed on the shelves of your supermarket. Special goods, such as freshly cut flowers as well as fruit and vegetable are among the first products to go missing, eg sell out. The UK currently imports about 40% of their goods. The bulk arrives by boat, but specific ones are brought in by air fright. Today across the EU official are positive to be able to terminate the complete air lockdown in the early morning. However latest headlines on the BBC (21:26 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 22:26 UK) quote the MET to observe new clouds drifting from Island towards the UK and mainland Europe.

Ash Cloud Animation for the UK Met Office:

This shows the ash dispersion up to 20,000 feet across Europe from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.  Advisories are issued every 6 hours.

Andy Hooper, a geologist who did his postdoctoral research at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, pointed out in a blog post for Reuters on Monday that “it remains a very real possibility that the volcano will continue to erupt on-and-off for months to come, as occurred during the last eruptive period” at Eyjafjallajokull in 1821-23. Mr. Hooper added, “Like 1821-1823, this current eruption is likely to remain small in terms of volume, but in an age of mass aviation, a relatively small amount of erupted ash is having huge consequences.”
This event with complete flight ban compares only to the post 9/11 events and is now said to have cost the airline industry already more in terms of losses. The news report a £130 million loss per day for the industry.
I guess very few people have actually thought that something like this would ever happen. It caught everyone by surprise and in time for the UK school term start, after the Easter Brake, a number of teachers and pupils will be missing from the classroom. One million Britons are said to be abroad by Sunday 18 April. The latest development and the some history in maps back to the 21 of March can be found HERE. Latest news on real time flights and open or closed airports can be found on FlightRadar24.

An animation from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, showing the projected dispersion of volcanic ash from the eruption in Iceland. Blogger Jonathan Crowe explains that the ash cloud is represented by areas colored black; areas colored yellow show where ash has fallen to earth by itself; areas colored red show where ash has fallen as a result of precipitation. The color scheme may owe something to that of Norway’s most famous volcano-inspired painting, “The Scream.”

The optimisation in food delivery and storage in the concepts of large retailers now leaves them with difficulties to fill the shelves. It is not a massive cries for that people had to go panic raid the stores, but it is visible on a shopping trip to your local store. The Guardian writes "The UK imports about 90% of its fruit and 60% of its vegetables. While the vast majority come by sea – Fair Trade bananas from the West Indies, for instance, are regularly delivered to Southampton and Portsmouth – some of the more exotic inhabitants of the UK's shops come by air."
The Telegraph reports "The ban on air freight has meant that fruits such as figs, papaya and coconuts, fresh flowers and pharmaceutical products – all of which are delivered by air – are not reaching their destinations in the UK. Air freight accounts for 25pc of the UK's international goods movements by value." and that was on day two of the events.
The tight interlink between city activities and the provision of food tell its own urban tale. Not that we are relying on Kenyan roses, but even essential goods have to be delivered into the urban areas from storage or directly from its production place. This logistical puzzle is increasingly optimised and trimmed to run on a short term basis. No longer the supermarkets sit on hugh stock pies. Space for storage is a expensive and they all want to be flexible and not sit on unwanted products. The result is an increasingly real-time provision of goods. This is is obviously no difference to the consumers if everything goes according to plan. However in extraordinary circumstances this can rather quickly leave large urban areas without the essentials. Now it is the fact ta airplanes can't fly earlier last year officials feared that the pig flue could leave the delivery chains understaffed and also leave supermarket shelves empty.

Image taken from frozenJuice

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