Dim the lights and grab the headphones for this one. The blobby gray mushroom of incredible size that is the Grímsvötn ash plume is harboring a frizzing lightning storm.
The process by which volcanic lightning forms is still a topic of speculation. One of the early theories was that the ash and debris particles become electrically charged by bumping into each other until lightning occurs. However, there's been recent research suggesting that the energy of the eruption itself causes the bolts, some of which seem to have a different nature than those of a regular thunderstorm: They can be "continuous, explosive sparks" that exist for just a couple milliseconds.
We tried to work outside but I only lasted for a couple of minutes. Pilot Reynir Petursson also didn’t want to stay on the ground for too long since it was very windy and the ash fall was unpredictable.... Once we got off the ground again we had to stay low because there were so many lightnings all around the eruption. Getting hit by a lightning in that strong wind, extreme frost and next to a live volcano was not desirable.
"So many lightnings": Bad for helicopter viability, great for totally wicked volcano cinema. Follow the jump for photos of the April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic lightning storm.
These stunning images were taken from helicopter by astronomer Marco Fulle.