UH Hilo researchers map lava flow in Puna; students conduct survey

Collaborative venture of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College uses unmanned aerial vehicle to study lava.

Lava flow
Image from previous UAV flight done on  Oct. 22.

Researchers from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo successfully mapped the lava flow in Puna on Nov. 6 with an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV. In a collaborative partnership with Hawai‘i Community College, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense, and the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the flight team from the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Laboratory used a Sensefly SwingletCAM with a visible camera to collect high resolution stills later merged into a mosaic for use by Civil Defense emergency planners.

The UH Hilo flight team includes Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography and environmental science; Nicolas Turner, SDAV cyber computer programming analyst; and Arthur Cunningham, consultant for aeronautical science.

KHON reports (update: web page no longer available):

The vehicle is equipped with a small camera and programmed to take hundreds of photos as it flies over the flow.

“Just before it takes a photo, it’ll stabilize itself. It’ll kill the motor and based on its airspeed rating, it’ll slow down and take a photo,” explained Nick Turner, geospatial researcher, UH Hilo. “Then the motor will kick in, it’ll speed back up, go to its next geotagged photo location and slow down, take another photo.”

Turner says the photos will be compiled into a massive, high-definition photo mosaic, and also be used to create surface models of the flow.

“We’re trying to measure the inflation rates of the flow remotely from the air, which is imagery taken from the UAV, and we’re comparing it with our field measurements from the ground,” Turner said.

The flights, which started in October, are part of a collaborative project conducted among UH Hilo’s geology and geography and environmental sciences departments, and HCC’s geomatics program.

In addition to the aerial mapping conducted by the researchers, Hawai‘i Community College students surveyed the flow. “The survey students worked very hard on the flow yesterday,” says Turner in an email.