The NASA space shuttle Endeavour, launched this weekend (Feb. 11), is scheduled to gather information key to the University of Hawai'i's research on the aftermath of volcanic eruptions. In November 1999, Professor Peter Mouginis-Mark, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, led a team of researchers in collecting information on the effects of the devastating 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines. NASA's 11-day Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will provide more extensive topographic data on that specific area as well as most of the rest of the Earth.
The SRTM will employ an advanced measurement technique called "radar interferometry" to obtain topographic maps of the Earth's surface for use by scientists, emergency relief planners, commercial companies and many other investigators, according to NASA. One of the two radar antennas that will form this "interferometer" will be located on a 197-foot mast that will be the largest fixed structure ever flown in space.
"It's providing a first look at the Earth's topography at this scale," Mouginis-Mark said. "Whether you're studying volcanoes, glaciers or mountains, the whole experience will be a tremendous one for all Earth scientists, which is why it's so exciting. And it's great that UH is once again involved in a space shuttle experiment."
Mouginis-Mark has worked with NASA on volcano research for more than 16 years, including three other space shuttle experiments. UH presently uses related data from active NASA satellite Landsat 7, launched in April 1999, and expects to obtain information from the satellite Terra, which was launched in December.
The SRTM data collected for Pinatubo and other volcanoes will supplement UH's research into using satellites to monitor active volcanoes and the hazards they present. Mouginis-Mark said one aspect of this research is concerned with the way the topography of parts of the volcano is changing over time due to erosion of the 1991 ash by heavy rainfall.
"We're trying to understand what the hazards are to people living around the volcano," he said. "The ash deposits that erode away are eventually re-deposited on the lower slopes in the form of dangerous mud flows, otherwise called 'lahars,' after it rains."
Mouginis-Mark said the purpose of this research is hazard mitigation, which minimizes the dangers and devastation these lahars can cause. The project is significant to the state of Hawai'i, which is home to Kilauea, the Big Island's active volcano. The SRTM will use Kilauea as a calibration target, and the volume of its recent lava flows will be calculated using SRTM data.
The public will be able to interact live with shuttle radar experts online to discuss the technological aspects of the mission during a live Web cast scheduled for Feb. 15. Visit http://quest.nasa.gov/ltc/jpl/srtm.html for a complete schedule of the SRTM Web events, or for more information on the SRTM, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm/. Information and photos of Mouginis-Mark's Pinatubo trip are available at http://www.pgd.hawaii.edu/~pmm/.
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