Active volcanoes are one of the most extreme environments on Earth, which presents a major challenge for scientists looking to study them up close. When your research specialty regularly barfs up molten planet-guts and exhales clouds of toxic gas, it’s understandable to want to keep a safe distance. We’ve all seen Dante’s Peak.
To solve this accessibility problem, volcanologists are increasingly relying on unmanned drones to capture visuals and measurements from the epic danger zones near erupting volcanoes. Take this footage of two lava-happy Guatemalan volcanoes, released Tuesday by a team of volcanologists and aerospace engineers based jointly at the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol.
Guatemalan volcano drone footage. Video: Cambridge University/YouTube
These shots were filmed above the peaks of Volcán de Fuego and Volcán de Pacaya, from the POV of relatively large fixed-wing drones. The vehicles ventured straight into the plumes of thick gas released by the erupting volcanoes, taking temperature, humidity, and thermal readings on the fly.
Though this is not the first drone footage filmed from the volatile environment above volcanoes, the Bristol/Cambridge team plans to build on their findings with a more ambitious expedition later this year. The researchers’ next batch of drones will carry a suite of sophisticated instruments, including a gas analyser, ash sample collectors, atmospheric sensors, and thermal and visual cameras.
“These sensors not only help to understand emissions from volcanoes, they could also be used in the future to help alert local communities of impending eruptions—particularly if the flights can be automated,” said expedition member Emma Liu, a volcanologist from Earth science department at Cambridge, in a statement.
“Drones offer an invaluable solution to the challenges of in-situ sampling and routine monitoring of volcanic emissions, particularly those where the near-vent region is prohibitively hazardous or inaccessible.”
They also produce mesmerizing views of these geologically pyrotechnic dynamoes, including this shot of an active vent buckling under pressure. So thanks, robots, for continually braving spectacles like this one so that we fragile humans don’t have to.
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