Skip to main content
Move the World.
predict volcanic eruptions

Lead Image © Antti Lipponen / Wikimedia Commons

Using new drone technology, a cosmopolitan crew of researchers have taken measurements from an active volcano, which could one day allow accurate early warnings of volcanic eruptions.

The crew, spearheaded by University College London (UCL) earth scientist Emma Liu, used modified drones to measure the gasses being released by Manam volcano in Papua New Guinea. Published in Science Advances, the study is a proof-of-concept for combining seismic, satellite, and drone data.

The project brought in specialists from volcanology and aerospace engineering to build drones capable of taking measurements from dangerously active volcanoes. While explosive volcanic eruptions are the most catastrophic and well-known form of volcanic activity, active volcanoes can release gasses — "degassing" — when not erupting.

Those observations are pretty tough to get; CO2 is prevalent in the atmosphere, meaning if you want to get accurate, you gotta get close. Active volcano vents, you will not be surprised to learn, are less than hospitable places.

The project modified long-range drones with gas sensors, spectrometers, and sampling devices that close automatically, and the team was able to fly the drone to Manam's summit, 6km away and 2km up. 

Using the drone-gathered gas sample, the team was able to suss out the sulfur/carbon dioxide ratio of Manam. This number is key to predicting volcanic eruptions because it is indicative of where the magma is; as volcanic eruptions approach, the proportion of carbon dioxide increases, escaping from bubbles in the roiling rock.

The drone's data can be combined with measurements gathered from ground-level sensors and satellites. In 2018, volcanologists use drones to take similar measurements from two Central American volcanoes, Masaya and Turrialba. 

Drones and disaster preparedness seem to go rotor-in-glove, whether as warning systems, speedy couriers, or gathering data from harsh terrain to better predict the next cataclysm — hopefully not supervolcanoes, but never count it out in 2020.

Up Next

How Drones are Changing Disaster Relief
How Drones are Changing Disaster Relief
Watch Now
How Drones are Changing Disaster Relief
As Hurricane Florence hits, here's a look at how drones are changing disaster relief.
Watch Now

Drone technology is fundamentally changing the way we respond to natural disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, rescue teams used drones extensively to map and triage affected areas, while utility and cellular providers used them to inspect damage and prioritize repairs. Cheap to operate and with the ability to cover widespread areas, drones are changing the game when it comes to cleaning up disaster zones. ...

Drones
Underwater Drone Finds Wreckage of the “Unsinkable” USS Nevada
USS Nevada
Drones
Underwater Drone Finds Wreckage of the “Unsinkable” USS Nevada
More than 70 years after the U.S. military deliberately sank the “unsinkable” USS Nevada, researchers have located its final resting spot.

More than 70 years after the U.S. military deliberately sank the “unsinkable” USS Nevada, researchers have located its final resting spot.

Uprising
Tree-Planting Drones Restore Charred Forests
tree-planting drones
Uprising
Tree-Planting Drones Restore Charred Forests
This Seattle startup is bringing new life to charred forests by releasing swarms of smart, tree-planting drones equipped with seeds, mini seedbeds, and cameras.

This Seattle startup is bringing new life to charred forests by releasing swarms of smart, tree-planting drones equipped with seeds, mini seedbeds, and cameras.

Below the Surface
The Fleet of Underwater Drones Probing Earth’s Interior
underwater drones
Below the Surface
The Fleet of Underwater Drones Probing Earth’s Interior
The Earth’s interior may be the last wild frontier, but not for long. These underwater drones are scanning the ocean to create a 3D model of its internal dynamics.

The Earth’s interior may be the last wild frontier, but not for long. These underwater drones are scanning the ocean to create a 3D model of its internal dynamics.

Drones
New Tech Could Finally Change Drone Regulations for the Better
drone regulations
Drones
New Tech Could Finally Change Drone Regulations for the Better
FAA drone regulations require pilots to have a visual line of sight of their aircraft, but new detect-and-avoid systems could change that.

FAA drone regulations require pilots to have a visual line of sight of their aircraft, but new detect-and-avoid systems could change that.

Dispatches
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
Dispatches
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
How a pediatric cancer drug went from discovery to clinical trials in five years and just $500,000.
By Teresa Purzner

How a pediatric cancer drug went from discovery to clinical trials in five years and just $500,000.

Reducing Food Waste and Feeding the Hungry
Reducing Food Waste and Feeding the Hungry
Watch Now
Reducing Food Waste and Feeding the Hungry
What if instead of throwing out leftover food, we used it to feed the hungry?
Watch Now

Hunger effects nearly 15 million people in the United States, yet we rank number one in the world when it comes to food waste. A non-profit called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is on a mission to take what would become food waste and use it to feed the hungry. Through their web app, restaurants, hotels, and catering companies can offer excess food for volunteers to pick up and bring to homeless shelters. So far, Rescuing...

On The Fringe
Searching for Cures in a Sewer
Searching for Cures in a Sewer
Watch Now
On The Fringe
Searching for Cures in a Sewer
Yale researcher Ben Chan spends a lot of time doing what most people would avoid at all costs. He travels the world...
Watch Now

Yale researcher Ben Chan spends a lot of time doing what most people would avoid at all costs. He travels the world collecting sewage samples. And he’s found that there are things hiding in our sewers. And not just clown or mutant turtles: potentially life-saving cures for antibiotic-resistant infections.