Wave Gliders Collect Lava Flow Data from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano

Photo: Liquid Robotics

Liquid Robotics has deployed two Wave Gliders, autonomous ocean robots, to capture live ocean data close to where lava is flowing into the ocean from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano. 

By using this unmanned technology, scientists study the effects of the lava entering the ocean, the plume it creates and the interactions of the lava and seawater directly from the surface of the ocean.

Over the next three weeks, the Wave Gliders will operate a precise zig zag course, approximately 300m+ from the lava flow plume collecting subsurface, surface and atmospheric data, Liquid Robotics explained.

Working with researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS-HVO), the Wave Gliders host a wide assortment of  sensors to measure: water temperatures, oxygen levels, pH levels, salinity, turbidity, conductivity and underwater acoustics.

The Wave Gliders will stay on station, continuously capturing sustained, high resolution measurements and imagery throughout the mission.

The effect of this massive lava flow entering the ocean is dramatic and amazing, but at the same time somewhat mysterious,” said Roger Hine, CTO and co-founder of Liquid Robotics. “Detailed measurements of the ocean plume and the ecosystems it impacts are now possible and safe to obtain with unmanned systems like our Wave Gliders. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to deploy our ocean robots to help advance science.”

The plume of hot, sediment-laden water generated by the lava flowing into the ocean spreads out, impacting surrounding ecosystems and permitted boaters operating in the area,” said Dr. Steve Colbert, University of Hawai’i at Hilo. “We don’t know how far and how deep that plume extends, or how it changes with oceanographic conditions or changes in the flow of lava. The Wave Gliders provide us the opportunity to answer these important questions.”

Data collected by the Wave Gliders will also help scientists observe in real time the impact of volcanic eruptions and lava flows on marine life (coral reefs and fish populations) and air quality affecting the Hawaiian islands.

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