Studying an active volcano isn’t easy. There’s the whole hot rock blowing up. Along with toxic gas that would make my allergies right now feel like nothing. Plus, just getting to the right spot is tough going. That’s where drones come in handy.

A group of scientists from the University of Cambridge and University of Bristol packed drones with sensors and cameras. The results are stunning.

volcanic eruption drone

For ten days, the team flew proof of concept flights at the summits of Volcán de Fuego and Volcán de Pacaya in Guatemala.

Volcán de Fuego was an ideal target for drone flyovers because it’s so active. Multiple small eruptions take place every hour.

The scientists used a pair of custom designed UAVs to fly to the peaks of the volcanoes. And a DJI Phantom 3 Pro.

flying drones around volcano

Several of the shots appear to be captured by a hovering drone (probably the Phantom 3 shown above). While others are obviously from the two larger fixed-wing drones.

The drones helped the group capture temperature, humidity and thermal data from within the volcanic clouds. All while the group stayed at distances of up to 8 kilometers away.

Dr. Emma Liu, a volcanologist at Cambridge, called the drones “an invaluable solution to the challenges of in-situ sampling and routine monitoring of volcanic emissions.”

“These sensors not only help to understand emissions from volcanoes, they could also be used in the future to help alert local communities of impending eruptions – particularly if the flights can be automated.”

With the test flights under their belts, the team is gearing up for another trip back to Guatemala. This time, the scientists are bringing along a bunch more sensors including a gas analyzer, atmospheric sensors and thermal cameras. As close as some of those Phantom 3 shots were, they might want to bring a spare or two. Something tells me a hot chunk of molten rock won’t be kind to it.



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