It shouldn’t surprise us that there was a spike in sunset pictures posted to flikr.com when the ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano began drifting over Europe. By the way, the name — Eyjafjallajokull — is the sound an Icelander makes when falling into a volcano.
Anyway, according to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Open Space blog, there were half again as many hits on flikr — the image posting site — on April 15th and 16th, as the skies of Europe filled with ash. The sulfur dioxide and ash cause the sunsets to turn deep purple and red, as the sulfur dioxide and ash scatter the sun’s light and absorb more higher-frequency lightwaves.
Even well-known art has been influenced by atmospheric oddities:
One theory holds that the setting of Edvard Munch’s The Scream was remembered from Oslo’s winter skies affected by eruption of Krakatau in 1883, which like Eyjafjallajokull, spewed picturesque aerosols into the atmosphere. Indeed, perhaps it was the ash that caused him to see a fearful psychocosmologial skyscape surrounding him. Munch later wrote:
“I was walking along a path with two friends — the sun was setting — suddenly the sky turned blood red — I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
“An infinite scream passing through airports” might not be a bad description of air passenger anxiety post-Iceland volcano. We take modern conveniences and technologies for granted at our peril. Even malfunctioning traffic lights can turn our daily world upside down. Our mastery of the world is a dangerous illusion. We forget how fragile it all is.
I’ve been spending time in New Orleans lately. There’s a city that knows about fragility. We’d do well to take a little bit more humility with us into the future. Sometimes dramatic geological events give us pretty sunsets. Sometimes they kill all the dinosaurs.