Drone peers into Stromboli’s open volcanic vents

Volcanoes that erupt frequently give researchers special opportunities to make repeated high-resolution observations of rapid eruption processes. At explosive volcanoes like Stromboli, situated just off the southwestern coast of Italy, “normal” explosive eruptions take place every few minutes to tens of minutes. However, the rainout of hot volcanic bombs, some as large as a meter across, makes it hazardous for scientists and their instruments to get close enough to Stromboli’s active vents to collect some forms of essential data.

At volcanoes like Stromboli, we can make many key observations from safe locations, hundreds of meters from the erupting vents. Other key observations must be made from locations beside or immediately above the vents. These underrecorded observations include the exact locations of vents, their dimensions, and the depth to the magma’s free surface. These observations have generally not been feasible because explosions occur at irregular frequencies, and they seldom provide warning; our inability to make these observations has been a major impediment to our models of the eruption process.

Fortunately, robotic technology can go where humans cannot. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become cheaper and more accessible, and they now have the ability to carry lightweight optical sensors for mapping and aerial observations of volcanic activity. Nicolas Turner and Bruce Houghton with the SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics, and team are using this approach to gain new insight into one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Read more at EOS.org.