Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA sends unmanned aircraft to study volcanic plume

Date:
April 2, 2013
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Studying volcanos can be hazardous work, both for researchers and aircraft. To penetrate such dangerous airspace, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), especially those with electric engines that ingest little contaminated air, are an emerging and effective way to gather crucial data about volcanic ash and gases.

NASA researchers modified three repurposed Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye unmanned aerial vehicles acquired from the United States Marine Corps to study the sulfur dioxide plume of Costa Rica's Turrialba volcano. The project is designed to improve the remote sensing capability of satellites and computer models of volcanic activity.
Credit: Google/NASA/Matthew Fladeland

Studying volcanos can be hazardous work, both for researchers and aircraft. To penetrate such dangerous airspace, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), especially those with electric engines that ingest little contaminated air, are an emerging and effective way to gather crucial data about volcanic ash and gases.

Last month, a team of NASA researchers deployed three repurposed military UAVs with special instruments into and above the noxious sulfur dioxide plume of Costa Rica's active Turrialba volcano, near San Jose. The project was designed to improve the remote-sensing capability of satellites, including satellite data research products such as maps of the concentration and distribution of volcanic gases. It was also designed to improve computer models of how and where volcanic plumes will travel.

Led by principal investigator David Pieri of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., the team launched 10 flights of the remote controlled UAVs into the volcanic plume and above the rim of Turrialba's 10,500-foot (3,200-meter) summit crater between March 11 and 14.

The small, twin electric engine Dragon Eye UAVs were acquired by researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., from the United States Marine Corps. Weighing less than six pounds (2.2 kilograms) each and with a wingspan of 3.75 feet (1.1 meters), they have visible and infrared video cameras and can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour within a volcanic plume. The researchers equipped them with sulfur dioxide and particle sensors and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles keyed to measure sulfur dioxide concentration.

During the flights, the team coordinated its data gathering with NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft, allowing scientists to compare sulfur dioxide concentration measurements from the satellite with measurements taken from within the plume.

Scientists believe computer models derived from this study will contribute to safeguarding the National and International Airspace System, and will also improve global climate predictions and mitigate environmental hazards (e.g., sulfur dioxide volcanic smog, or "vog") for people who live near volcanoes.

A key constituent of such models is the intensity and character of the volcanic activity located near the eruption vent. For instance, knowing the height of ash and gas concentrations, and temperatures over the vent during an eruption are important initial factors for any model that predicts the direction of the volcanic plume.

"It is very difficult to gather data from within volcanic eruption columns and plumes because updraft wind speeds are very high and high ash concentrations can quickly destroy aircraft engines," said Pieri. "Such flight environments can be very dangerous to manned aircraft. Volcanic eruption plumes may stretch for miles from a summit vent, and detached ash clouds can drift hundreds to thousands of miles from an eruption site."

The project supports NASA's ASTER mission as well as JPL's planned Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) satellite mission by improving satellite data-based retrievals of gases and solid aerosols associated with volcanic activity, as well as volcanic emission transport models. HyspIRI will study the world's ecosystems and provide critical information on natural disasters such as volcanoes, assessing their pre-eruptive behavior and the likelihood of future eruptions.

For more information, read the full Ames feature at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/earthmonth/volcanic-plume-uavs.html . For more on NASA's Airborne Science Program, visit: http://airbornescience.nasa.gov/ . For more on HyspIRI, visit: http://hyspiri.jpl.nasa.gov/ . For more on ASTER, visit: http://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA sends unmanned aircraft to study volcanic plume." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130402101417.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2013, April 2). NASA sends unmanned aircraft to study volcanic plume. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130402101417.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA sends unmanned aircraft to study volcanic plume." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130402101417.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Mount Paektu volcano in North Korea is showing signs of life and there's not much known about it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins