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Can drones be useful in the study of gases coming out of volcanoes?

Drones are becoming useful in the study of volcanic gas plumes

Volcanologists have to undergo numerous challenges when doing fieldwork on active volcanoes. Considering that these are active volcanoes, there could be many distracting and dangerous sights to witness. Owing to these kinds of hindrances, volcanologists, as well as engineers involved in the field study of volcanoes, may find it quite difficult to study the gases that come out from volcanoes. 

Can drones be used in the study of these gases?

During active volcanoes, the fieldwork tends to get really complicated, considering that there are a lot of hindrances, as mentioned above. However, there might be some other techniques that can be useful in investigating the volcano details. How about drones? Well, drones could actually be useful in the study and measure of volcanic gases.

Now, the next thing that can come into people’s minds is that what is the need for studying these gases? Well, they turn out to be quite useful in predicting and forecasting a volcano eruption. They are one of the tools that turn out to be quite efficient in volcano monitoring. 

However, the main challenge here is that scientists and volcanologists are required to enter into high-risk zones in order to collect these gases. They would literally have to be quite close to the active volcano area. Now, this is where drones turn out to be big saviors. In fact, various studies have proved that drones are quite effective in measuring gas emissions from volcanoes.  

A drone is also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The entire unit is controlled with the help of a remote; due to which, the pilot need not be present at the actual site where drone presence is required. 

How do drones measure these gases coming from volcanoes?

The UAV is released above the area where monitoring is essential in order to capture minute details regarding the active crater terrace. Compared to lidar technology that has always been used to monitor and study volcanic eruptions and patterns, the drones are much cost-effective, and they have been effective in collecting minute details.

These drones were initially used at Stromboli, a volcanic mountain in Italy, sometime in 2007. They were used at that time to collect ash samples post the volcanic eruption — post which drones have definitely become cheaper, and they are also equipped with high-quality imaging sensors. 

Recently, a team of volcanologists, engineers, chemists, and physicists were present at Central America’s two largest degassing volcanoes in order to test a few important things. They used best drones having compact gas instruments. The drone carried these instruments cutting through the gas fumes that were emitted by the Turrialba volcano.

Why should these gases be measured?

If at all there are any sort of changes in the ratios of these gases, then this could indicate a volcanic eruption. By sending a drone right through the gas fumes or plumes as it comes out of the volcano, one can make out the proportions of carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) within the fumes. 

The total amount of gas coming out from the volcano indicates the volatile exchange rate between deep inside the earth and the atmosphere. 

Another reason is that it is important to understand the reactive species that are a part of the volcano. This information becomes essential in determining the connectivity between volcanoes, climate, and the ozone layer. Halogens such as chlorine and bromine exist within these compounds present in the volcano. A drone revolving within these gases at different distances from the source of the volcano can help in understanding the changes in these compounds as the plumes get older. 

And finally, the total gas emitted is quite useful in the study of volcanic patterns and activities. 

As a matter of fact, Turrialba and Masaya are considered to Central America’s biggest degassing volcanoes. In the past 20 years, each of these is known to have given out more than 4 million tons of sulfur dioxide. As both of these mountains lie in the vicinity of major cities, they have become the ideal locations to test the drone technique. 

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