New Tools Benefit Geologists in Lava Flow Study

Jun 19, 2018

An HVO geologist uses a thermal camera to measure the temperature (about 93 degrees C or 200 degrees F) of a ground crack near fissure 9.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

The eruption at Kīlauea continues to send ash plumes into the sky and push lava into the ocean. While that has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced scores of people into shelters, it is also providing an unprecedented opportunity for scientific research.

Against the backdrop of loss and disruption, scientists are using a variety of tools that will provide them with study opportunities for decades. Tina Neal is Scientist in Charge at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“The number of new tools is where we’re going to develop this incredibly rich data set. It spans everything from the very simple, and most reliable, which is human observation. We are using space based data, radar data, to track the changes and to measure the changes in the ground elevation, deformation. “

Neal believes this is the first time in the United States that scientists are able to use unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—to analyze an active volcano.

“Making gas emission measurements, both in the Lower East Rift Zone and at the summit, taking unbelievable imagery and from that imagery they can derive  products that we can analyze to measure shape change and volume change. We are also doing a variety of new gas measurements with a suite of new tools, some of which have been developed by USGS scientists.”

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists are also using infrasound, or low frequency sensors, to localize the source of seismic energy at the surface. 

“We have an array deployed in the Lower East Rift Zone that tells us what we know from observation, that Fissure 8 is where all of the action is. If we weren’t exactly sure where along the rift zone lava was coming out, this tool, infrasound, might help us localize that eruption.”