Hawaii Researchers Map Active Lava Flow for Emergency Responders

Posted by Betsy Lillian on October 31, 2014 No Comments
Categories : Imaging & Sensors

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH Hilo) have used an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to successfully map the active flow front of the Kilauea lava flow on Hawaii Island.

On Oct. 22, in a collaborative partnership with Hawaii County Civil Defense and the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the flight team from the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Laboratory used a senseFly swinglet CAM to collect high-resolution stills, which were later merged into a mosaic for use by Civil Defense emergency planners.

The lava flow is headed toward the town of Pahoa in the district of Puna – threatening to cut off the main highway and other access roads and thus isolating an area of about 10,000 residents from the rest of the island.

The UH Hilo flight team includes Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography and environmental science; Nicolas Turner, SDAV cyber computer programming analyst; and Arthur Cunningham, consultant for aeronautical science.

“The lava flow has already impacted the lives of many residents in Puna,” says Perroy. “Our UAV support can provide quick and accurate information to emergency responders.”

The team closely monitored the flight performance of the UAV aircraft as it traveled over the lava and noted minor turbulence as it crossed the thermally dynamic environment. A county helicopter provided support with an air observer on board from the UAV team during flight operations.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) worked closely with the Hilo research team on approval of their Certificate of Authorization. The flights are in direct support of disaster-relief operations in the area, and the FAA and flight team worked together to make sure all safety concerns were met.

The researchers plan to fly again and continue supporting relief operations with quick aerial assessments when needed. Sensefly representatives are closely monitoring and supporting the team’s mapping relief effort and are prepared to provide additional equipment if needed.

Photo courtesy of senseFly

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