In

In this handout composite image by NASA, three different satellite image flyovers were combined from NASA's Aqua satellite to show the journey of the volcanic ash from the eruption of a volcano in Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain as it traveled across the southern Pacific Ocean June 14, 2011.

 

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia canceled flights that were scheduled for Thursday to New Zealand and (until early morning) to the western Australian city of Perth as the ash cloud from Chile's Puyehue volcano continued to spread and strand thousands more travelers.

Dubbing the cloud over Perth the plume of gloom, the Sydney Morning Herald explained that the levels of ash are as low as 15,000 feet (4575 meters) and pose a safety risk for airlines.  On its website, Perth Airport said that the ash cloud's low position had prompted the cancellation of at least 56 flights Wednesday by Virgin Australia, Qantas, JetStar, and others.  All flights are expected to resume by 6:00 a.m. local time on Thursday.

A different cloud along Australia's southeast coast is disrupting flights to New Zealand.  Virgin Australia, JetStar and Qantas have all canceled flights to New Zealand until noon on Thursday.

Over in South America, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala, confronted on Tuesday with canceled flights due to the ash cloud, resorted to traveling by boat instead of airplane to keep an appointment with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.  This comes a day after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon caught a bus for the 400 mile (645 kilometers) ride from Cordoba to Buenos Aires to meet with the Argentinian president.

Northeasterly winds have sent the ash cloud from Chile into neighboring Argentina, grounding flights into and out of Buenos Aires' two main airports for all or part of ten days since the eruption.  By Tuesday, several major airlines had cancelled flights into and out of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.  On Wednesday, planes were taking off and landing in Argentina's two airports thanks to rain that took some of the engine-choking ash out of the air.

Chile's chain of about 2,000 volcanoes is the world's second largest after Indonesia. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.  Scientists there warn that ash from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic eruption could linger in the air and disrupt flights for a long time to come.

There are no signs that the situation is going to change or stabilize in the short term, said Enrique Valdivieso, director of Chile's national service of geology and mining (Sernageomin).

Fine ash, like we have seen from this latest eruption, could last (in the air) for months. If the ash column continues to measure up to 5.5 miles (9 km), it can spread easily. The higher the ash, the more it is blown elsewhere.

He said it was hard to predict how long the ash cloud would continue to affect flights. If the eruption intensifies, it could increase the amount of ash belched into the atmosphere.

Check with airline websites if you have tickets and plan to travel to or from any affected areas.  Many are now waiving change fees and revising their cancellation policies.

CLICK HERE to learn why airplanes can't fly through ash.

CLICK HERE to see photos from Chile and Argentina just after the initial eruption