Drones Will Be Used More to Observe Active Volcanoes


The imaging of active volcanoes has been a challenge in volcanology because of the high risk of explosion or collapse. Some researchers, however, think otherwise. 

The German Research Center for Geoscience used drones to track the lava dome at the Santa Maria volcano in Guatemala. The results were fantastic! Here is all you need to know. 

Drones Are Now Used to Measure Volcanic Activity 

The Santa Maria volcano’s lava dome was observed recently using drones. The researchers were able to prove that the lava dome moves on two different time scales: slow expansion and increase of the dome, and quick extrusion of viscous lava. 

By comparing the data from the drone, the researchers determined the flow speed, the volcano’s surface temperature, and the movement patterns. These parameters were significant for forecasting the danger of explosive volcanoes. The researchers also concluded the flow properties of the lava. 

“We have shown that the use of drones can help to completely re-measure even the most dangerous and active volcanoes on Earth from a safe distance,” explained Edgar Zorn, the first author of the research. 

The two cameras utilized to monitor the Caliente volcanic cone of the Santa Maria volcano were able to capture high-resolution pictures and thermal imaging. Using an advanced computer algorithm, the researchers developed full 3D models from those pictures. They obtained a 3D topography and temperature pattern of the volcano with a resolution of a few centimeters. Zorn added: “In the study, we presented some new possibilities for the representation and measurement of certain ground movements, which could be very useful in future projects.”

Drone missions can lower the risk for volcanologists, as the camera can be directed to the dangerous areas while the researchers remain at a distance. The biggest challenge, however, lies in the calculation and the post-processing of the models.

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