The Kilauea eruption in Hawaii showed the value of drones. Drone photographers captured the earliest stages of the eruption. They later provided dramatic footage of lava ejections, lava flows, and plumes of debris and gases. Authorities enlisted the services of some drone experts to fly in and near the exclusion zone to monitor the eruption, spot new vents, and monitor lava flows.
Mapping volcanoes with precision and small detail is an essential piece of information for research and for setting a baseline. Drones can use geospatial software to measure and map volcanoes down to the scale of a few centimeters. The 3-D technology adds layers, depth, and texture to the imaging, and 3-D imaging improves understanding. After mapping Kilauea, drones can use the information as a baseline for long-term monitoring.
Drones can monitor volcanoes like Kilauea to detect changes in size, heat, and venting. Drones can carry atmospheric sensors near volcanoes and identify the levels of carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. In many eruptions, the mountains show changes in gas emissions, shape, and size at the start of the activity. Sometimes dramatic and often subtle, variations in size and shape are frequent precursors to eruptions. While there is yet no known way to stop a volcano eruption, heeding the warning signs of a potential eruption is critical to minimize danger and maximize safety for the population of the area.
Toxic fumes often accompany the intense heat and lava ejections. Kilauea’s poisonous fumes pose a danger apart from lava, and drones are ideal for sensing and tracking toxic fumes. Experience and scientific research suggest that drones are particularly useful in volcanic eruptions. Drone training should be an essential part of emergency personnel development in Hawaii and other areas with active volcanoes. Drone technology provides important information before, during, and after volcanic events that can save lives and reduce property loss.
Drones can observe lava flows and predict danger zones. Lava flows carve a path of utter destruction, even melting rock along the way. Homes and structures potentially in the line of Kilauea’s flow must be warned and evacuated. Lava can erupt from random places along the volcano and drones can provide constant vigilance for events at or near the site of the eruption.
In a major eruption such as Kilauea, drone emergency services can warn residents, assist evacuations, and detect harmful gases. Civil defense and first responders use drone emergency services to ensure compliance with evacuation orders and to search for stranded individuals and families. Drone training is a valuable part of emergency preparedness training. The role of drones in an emergency can extend from early detection of threats to rescue operations after a natural catastrophe or other dangerous events.