Volcanic Vortex

This infrared image shows a kilometer-high volcanic vortex swirling over the Bardarbunga eruption. The bright red at the bottom is lava escaping the fissure, whereas the yellow and white regions show rising hot gases. Although the vortex looks similar to a tornado, it is actually more like a dust devil or a so-called fire tornado. All three of these vortices are driven by a heat source near the ground that generates buoyant updrafts of air. As the hot gases rise, cooler air flows in to replace them. Any small vorticity in that ambient air gets amplified as it’s drawn to the center, the same way an ice skater spins faster when she pulls her arms in. With the right conditions, a vortex can form. Unlike a harmless dust devil, though, this vortex is likely filled with sulphur dioxide and volcanic ash and would pose a serious hazard to aviation.  (Image credit: Nicarnica Aviation; source video; via io9)

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