Case Study 6 – Sample a Volcano Plume

CASCADE team members from the University of Bristol have been carrying out ground breaking drone flights over three different volcanic systems as part of Case Study 6 – Sample a Volcano. Teaming up with Dr Matt Watson – a volcanologist from the University of Bristol, and Dr Emma Liu – a volcanologist from Cambridge University, they have been capturing samples of ash and measuring gas concentrations from directly within volcanic plumes.

In June and October of 2018 the CASCADE team together with Dr Rick Thomas from Birmingham travelled out to monitor Fuego in Guatemala, carrying out multiple flights up to 14500ft altitude and at distances of up to 8km. Supported by CASCADE, the World Bank and the British Embassy in Guatemala, the team were assisting volcanologists at Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología (INSIVUMEH), the Guatemalan government agency responsible for monitoring volcanoes.

Figure 2: The team on the ground – Rob Clarke, Tom Richardson, Matt Watson, Rick Thomas, Matt Purvis and Ben Schellenberg

Integrating with the Guatemalan air traffic control (DGAC), the team flew fixed-wing drones directly over the summit of Fuego volcano. They imaged the summit and were able to predict when and where the next paroxysmal eruption would occur with considerable accuracy. CASCADE Co-I Dr Thomas Richardson, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, said: “Flying drones at this altitude and remotely is a real challenge and it is incredibly rewarding to help colleagues in Guatemala make observations of the crater that would otherwise not be possible.”

Figure 3: Photo taken from an early morning flight which shows, from left to right, Volcán de Acatenango and Volcán de Fuego (double peak in the left centre of the image), Volcán de Agua (next right, more distant) and Volcán de Pacaya (in the far distance).

Dr Matt Watson, from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, added: “This is an incredible opportunity to help others in Guatemala, especially after the tragic events of June 3 2018.

Collaboration between scientists and engineers makes this possible – engineers are capable of realising scientific endeavors; between us we can take new and exciting observations and measurements to assist with understanding and prediction of volcanic risks.” The CASCADE team will be returning to Guatemala in March to continue their work – and have plans for placing sensors on the top of Fuego, multi-vehicle operations and night flights.

Figure 4: Flight operations for fixed wing overflights of Soufriere Hills Volcano on Montserrat.

In November 2018 CASCADE team members and Dr Emma Liu travelled out to Montserrat to study Soufriere Hills Volcano in conjunction with Rod Stewart and the Montserrat Volcanic Observatory. The objective of the trip was to measure the gas concentrations within the plume – specifically the SO2 concentration – using multigas sensors developed by Palermo University in Italy.

Dr Emma Liu, Volcanologist from the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge, said: “Drones offer an invaluable solution to the challenges of in-situ sampling and routine monitoring of volcanic emissions, particularly those where the near-vent region is prohibitively hazardous or inaccessible.”

Dr Colin Greatwood, Dr Graham Ryan and Dr Kieran Wood prepare for a flight on Montserrat

In May of 2019, CASCADE members will be supporting an expedition led by Dr Emma Liu on the Deep Carbon Observatory funded project Aerial Observations of Volcanic Emissions where five teams – including CASCADE team members – will be using drones with miniaturized gas-sampling equipment to collect volcanic gas measurements at Manam and Rabaul volcanoes in Papua New Guinea.

At the end of 2019 – they will be returning to Montserrat and will be carrying out BVLOS operational demonstrations, testing key technologies and protocols for operating drones safely within free airspace, working in partnership with the local Air Traffic Control and the Montserrat Observatory.

The CASCADE team would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that they have worked with across all three campaigns including; DGAC (Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil) and INSIVUMEH in Guatemala (Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología) in Guatemala; Rod Stewart and the Montserrat Observatory team; Kila Mulina and the team at the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory in Papua New Guinea. Without their significant help and support, this case study would not have been possible.

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