New early warning systems mean scientists can better forecast when a mountain is about to blow its top.
Three years ago, scientists from the University of Costa Rica flew a fixed-wing drone carrying a small mass spectrometer at Turrialba Volcano, in central Costa Rica while Turrialba was in the middle of erupting, emitting a plume of ash. They’ve also flown eight-rotor drones with 6-kilogram (13-pound) mass spectrometers over Vulcano, a small Italian island near Sicily, and the crater of Solfatara, near Naples. In partnership with the volcanologists in Costa Rica, Pieri’s colleagues at JPL hope to create a mass spectrometer weighing as little as 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds).
The close range data gathered by drones complements imaging NASA has been gathering from a device on its Terra satellite since 2000. The images help scientists measure variations in gasses and temperatures at volcanoes around the world, helping to identify the warning signs of rising magma.
Drones and satellites have a big advantage over backpacks. People don’t have to carry them into danger zones.
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