A team of researchers from the University of Hawaii's Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, are using autonomous ocean robots, an unmanned technology, to capture live ocean data around Kilauea, the volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.
With the autonomous ocean robots called Wave Gliders, deployed by Liquid Robotics, scientists have the opportunity to study the effects of the lava entering the ocean, the plume it creates, and the interactions of the lava and seawater directly from the surface of the ocean. Scientists note that very few volcanic eruptions and lava flows have ever been monitored in real time from the ocean.
The data collected also will help scientists observe in real time the impact of volcanic eruptions and lava flows on marine life (coral reefs and fish populations) and air quality affecting the Hawaiian islands.
Over the next three weeks, the Wave Gliders will operate a precise zig zag course, approximately 300m+ from the lava flow plume collecting rare subsurface, surface and atmospheric data.
The technology will host a wide assortment of sophisticated sensors to measure: water temperatures, oxygen levels, pH levels, salinity, turbidity, conductivity and underwater acoustics. The Wave Gliders will stay on station, continuously capturing sustained, high resolution measurements and imagery throughout the mission.
Roger Hine, CTO and co-founder of Liquid Robotics, said:
"The effect of this massive lava flow entering the ocean is dramatic and amazing, but at the same time somewhat mysterious. Detailed measurements of the ocean plume and the ecosystems it impacts are now possible and safe to obtain with unmanned systems like our Wave Gliders. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to deploy our ocean robots to help advance science."
By using an unmanned ocean robot vs. sending a research ship, researchers can collect scientific data on this rare volcanic event without risk to humans, the company added. Dr. Steve Colbert, University of Hawai’i at Hilo, said:
"The plume of hot, sediment-laden water generated by the lava flowing into the ocean spreads out, impacting surrounding ecosystems and permitted boaters operating in the area. We don’t know how far and how deep that plume extends, or how it changes with oceanographic conditions or changes in the flow of lava. The Wave Gliders provide us the opportunity to answer these important questions."