UH Hilo researchers, county officials and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in front of an active Puna lava flow on October 22, 2014.

University of at Mānoa and UH Hilo researchers will be collaborating on a research project funded by NASA. UH’s project will develop capability at the university for data collecting via unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs through observations of active volcanism in Hawaiʻi.

Specifically, the aim of the UH grant is two-fold—to study the active volcanic processes (lava flows and gas plumes) in Puna on Hawaiʻi Island using UAVs and, while doing so, to develop capability and protocol to use UAVs to do other types of scientific studies. The latter will be of benefit to all UH researchers.

NASA awarded $11.25 million to universities in 15 states for research and development in areas such as remote sensing, nanotechnology, astrophysics and aeronautics. The UH team is awaiting confirmation on the exact amount they will receive; they requested $749,696. The award covers a three-year period.

Principal investigator of the UH project is Peter Mouginis-Mark from the Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at UH Mānoa. Co-investigators from the institute include Robert Wright and John Porter. Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography at UH Hilo, is a co-investigator on the project.

Building on UH Hilo research

The Hilo team, which also included Jonathan Price, associate professor of geography, Nicolas Turner, cyber computer programming analyst at the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Laboratory, and Arthur Cunningham, consultant for aeronautical science at UH Hilo, were highly successful in helping Civil Defense map the Puna lava flow as it encroached on Pāhoa town nearly cutting off the main highway into the district.

The UH team working on the NASA grant will be building on that work, not just for continued study of lava activity, but to create a protocol for UAV use that all UH researchers could utilize.

“The most important thing is that we will be learning how to fly our vehicles legally in collaboration with NASA,” says Mouginis-Mark. He and Perroy will be working closely with NASA to develop the protocol so that the scientific research done with UAVs is legal under federal guidelines. “Our work will set up protocol so UH researchers can do other research with UAVs.”

For more on this research, read the UH Hilo Stories article.

—By Susan Enright