NASA aids Kilauea disaster response efforts using satellite imagery, research aircraft

NASA has been using satellites to assist first responders dealing with the volcanic eruptions on the Big Island. Mult...

Posted: Jun 28, 2018 8:24 AM
Updated: Jun 28, 2018 8:24 AM

NASA has been using satellites to assist first responders dealing with the volcanic eruptions on the Big Island. Multiple NASA and partner satellites in-orbit around Earth have helped provide key information on eruption patterns and atmospheric impacts of the Kilauea eruption.

"We are trying to help them as much as they can," NASA Disaster Program coordinator Jean-Paul Vernier said. "When the lava spewed out from the fissures.. the lava created hot spots, which is visible from satellite. Those hotspots-- we can actually map out the position of the lava flows and provide this information to people on the ground."

According to the agency, scientific instruments aboard satellites have helped detect active fissures, ash, sulfur dioxide plumes and ground changes caused by magma movement. Some of those instruments include, Interferometric synthetic aperature radar (InSAR) images, or interferograms, which shows the amount of permanent surface movement caused almost entirely by the volcanic eruption that started on May 3, 2018. And an Ozone Monitoring Instrument, or OMI, which measures the total column ozone of sulfur dioxide (SO2).

"From above we also get good information about the current emission of sulfur dioxide emitted.. This is very useful to the people who are trying to provide forecast.. They really need to understand the emission rate and we can get those rates from the satellite," Vernier said.

Additionally, astronauts at the International Space Station have captured and shared images of the eruption with USGS and responders.

NASA had also utilized a special research aircraft, called the Gulfstream-III (G-III), to help study the lava zone. The aircraft is equipped with a Glacier and Land Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN), a high-resolution instrument. GLISTIN is usually used to help study the evolution of glaciers, but according to the agency, a team of scientist also figured out a way to use it to study the landscape of the Lower East Rift Zone.

"They were to apply the same technique to follow the lava.. and understand how much lava is coming out of the fissures, especially fissure 8," Vernier added.

The aircraft returned to the mainland last week, but according to NASA, it will likely return as there will still be interest in capturing an "end state" of the eruption down the road.

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