UH Hilo researchers provide aerial imagery of Puna lava flow to emergency responders

The flights are in direct support of disaster relief operations in the area of the flow.

By Susan Enright.

Research Team at the lava flow. Standing in tall grass with steam rising from flow.
The lava flow advances directly behind researchers (l-r) Matt Patrick and Frank Trusdell, geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory; Asia Addlesberger, geographic information systems specialist with the County of Hawai‘i; Tim Orr, head geologist at HVO; and UH Hilo researchers Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography and environmental science; Nicolas Turner, cyber computer programming analyst; and Jonathan Price, associate professor of geography, Oct. 22, 2014.

Researchers from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo successfully mapped the active flow front of the June 27th Kīlauea lava flow on Hawai‘i Island with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on Oct. 22, 2014. In a collaborative partnership with 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.

“The lava flow has already impacted the lives of many residents in Puna,” said Perroy. “Our UAV support can provide quick and accurate information to emergency responders.”

Aerial of lava flow winding through forest. Smoke rising.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aerial photo captured by the SwingletCAM over an advancing flow breakout heading towards Pāhoa, Hawai‘i, on Oct. 22, 2014.

The team closely monitored the flight performance of the UAV aircraft as it travelled over the lava and noted minor turbulence as it crossed the thermally dynamic environment. A county helicopter provided support with an air observer on board from the UAV team during flight operations.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office of the Federal Aviation Administration worked closely with the Hilo research team on approval of their Certificate of Authorization. The flights are in direct support of disaster relief operations in the area and the FAA and flight team worked together to make sure all safety concerns were met.

The lava flow is headed toward the town of Pāhoa in the district of Puna, threatening to cut off the main highway and other access roads thus isolating an area of about 10,000 residents from the rest of the island. The flow is currently advancing at 10 yards an hour and is 280 yards from Pāhoa Village Road as of this morning.

The researchers plan to fly again and continue supporting relief operations with quick aerial assessments when needed. Sensefly representatives are closely monitoring and supporting the team’s mapping relief effort and are at-the-ready with additional equipment should it be needed.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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