With an estimated 300 active volcanoes on Earth, it is a challenge to monitor them all to send out early warnings before they erupt. Measuring volcanic gas emissions is also no easy task. However, a new report has shown how scientists have designed specially-adapted drones to help collect data from an active volcano in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
These drones could help local communities monitor nearby volcanoes and predict future eruptions. Their measurements could also tell more about the most inaccessible, highly active volcanoes on the planet and how volcanoes contribute to the global carbon cycle.
The volcano predicting drones were also deployed at the Manam volcano located on an island just 10 kilometres wide that is at the northeast coast of PNG. Over 9,000 people reside on the island which also houses Manam Motu, one of the most active volcanoes in the country.
Using the latest drones, scientists can forecast when a volcano is going to blow. The drone can also monitor earthquake activity in the area to detect tremors which almost always precede eruptions, and look out for bulging in the volcano’s sloping walls as magma builds up underneath.
With clear skies, satellites can also detect and measure volcanic emissions of gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2). Speaking to ScienceAlert, volcanologist Emma Liu from University College London said that Manam had not been studied in detail but they could see from satellite data that it was producing strong emissions. Geochemist Tobias Fischer, from the University of New Mexico, said that they wanted to quantify the carbon emissions from this very large carbon dioxide emitter.
Between October 2018 and May 2019, during two field campaigns on Manam Island, the international team tested two types of long-range drones equipped with gas sensors, cameras, and other devices.
The steep slopes at Manam make it highly dangerous to collect gas samples on foot but the drones could safely fly right into the billowing plumes, helping the research team measure its volcanic gas emissions more accurately.