SOEST contributes to NASA-led campaign to study Hawaii’s volcanoes

Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i is one of Earth’s most active volcanoes, drawing scientists and others from all over the world to study and witness its spectacular displays of nature. A NASA-led science team is exploring Kilauea and the adjacent volcano Mauna Loa from the air, ground and space. Their goal: to better understand volcanic processes and help mitigate associated hazards.

SOEST atmospheric scientist Steven Businger joined NASA, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and several other universities to embark on a field campaign to study the links between volcanic gases/thermal emissions and vegetation health and extent; the flow of lava from the volcanoes; thermal anomalies; gas plumes; other active volcanic processes; and ways to mitigate volcanic hazards. The campaign, which is also studying Hawai‘i’s coral reefs, will provide precursor data for NASA’s Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) satellite mission concept to study Earth ecosystems and natural hazards such as volcanoes, wildfires and drought.

Businger will study vog, Hawai‘i’s notorious volcanic air pollution. Businger contributes to the project his expertise in vog mapping and forecasting. When Kilauea’s summit resumed erupting in 2008, sulfur dioxide emissions increased dramatically. Sulfur dioxide converts to sulfate aerosol to create vog: a noxious, corrosive suspension of sulfur dioxide and fine sulfate aerosols. Communities downwind of Kilauea suffer adverse effects. To help the public deal with vog, the Vog Measurement and Prediction Project (VMAP), developed by Businger, produces forecasts of vog motion and concentration across the Hawaiian Islands. Data collected during a spaceborne HyspIRI mission may contribute substantially to Hawaii air quality monitoring efforts.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center recently hosted an open house for Hawaii journalists at Marine Corp Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, to show off their ocean, land, air and space observation systems that will be new data sources for Steve Businger’s research. Here is a related short video produced by SOEST IT Specialist Brian Chee and NASA Media Relations. 

Read more on Scientific American, Live Science, and the NASA press release.