Environmental Protection

Volcano Studied by Unmanned Aircrafts

Three repurposed and unmanned aircrafts have been modified by NASA researchers in order to study the sulfur dioxide plume of the Turrialba volcano in Costa Rica.

A team of researchers sent three military aircrafts into and above the sulfur dioxide plume of the Turrialba volcano, which is currently active and located in Costa Rica. The project was conducted to improve the remote-sensing and mapping capabilities for volcanic gases and boost the accuracy of computer models of expected travel paths for volcanic plumes.

The aircrafts are equipped with infrared and visible video cameras that can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour inside a volcanic plume. The researchers also equipped the aircrafts with particle sensors, sulfur dioxide sensors, and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles to measure concentrations of the sulfur dioxide.

The researchers expect the computer models achieved from the study will improve global climate predictions and help mitigate environmental hazards for those that live near volcanoes. David Pieri, lead researcher of the project, said, "It is very difficult to gather data from within volcanic eruption columns and plumes because updraft wind speeds are very high and high ash concentrations can quickly destroy aircraft engines. Such flight environments can be very dangerous to manned aircraft. Volcanic eruption plumes may stretch for miles from a summit vent, and detached ash clouds can drift hundreds to thousands of miles from an eruption site."

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