Inside Unmanned Systems

FEB-MAR 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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AIR RESEARCH 16 February/March 2018 unmanned systems inside Researchers are using specially designed sensors and drones to study volcanic plumes and lava fl ows to better predict the impact of eruptions. by Charles Q. Choi HOT SHOTS STUDY VOLCANOES AND LAVA FLOWS I f regular drones face problems with the winds near build- ings and bridges, imagine the challenges they face with the unpredictable weather and corro- sive plumes accompanying many volcanoes. Still, researchers are increasingly f lying drones over volcanoes to shed light on when they might erupt and the risks lava f lows might have for nearby communities. One company is even developing a drone intended to withstand regular f lights into volcanic plumes, a design that could also help it analyze indus- trial pollution and wildfire smoke. Investigating Old Lava Flows Volc a nolog i s t s at C olu mbi a Universit y 's L a mont-Doher t y Ear th Obser vator y are using drones to explore what differ- ences might exist in the way that lava f lows advance over a variety of surfaces. "Knowing the topog- raphy onto which the f low is about to move is critical in order to make good predictions about where and how quickly the lava will go," said Einat Lev, an assistant research professor at the observatory. Lev and her colleagues have f lown their drone over volcanic sites all over the world. Their ex- peditions have included scientists from NASA, because lava f lows on Earth can closely resemble those on other planets, especially Mars. "The drone gives us access to areas we just couldn't access pre- viously, because most volcanic ter- rains are very difficult or danger- ous to walk on," Lev said. "It also lets us cover a much wider area than could be achieved on foot." A lava f low they recently in- vestigated at Holuhraun in the Icelandic Highlands was one of the largest ever recorded. A volca- nic eruption there that began in 2014 generated a lava field more than 33 square miles large, cov- ering a wide variety of terrain, including previous lava f lows, solid bedrock, subglacial sand, a pebble-covered riverbank and a large river. The researchers plan their mis- sions while still in the office to en-

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