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autonomous robots in the ocean with volcanic gas plumes in the background
Two Wave Gliders at Kapoho Bay. Credit: Liquid Robotics, a Boeing company

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo professors, scientists and students have been hard at work collecting data at the current Kīlauea eruption on Hawaiʻi Island.

Now that the lava is entering the ocean at Kapoho Bay, a team of researchers from UH Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, are using autonomous ocean robots, an unmanned technology, to capture live ocean data close to the entry area. With technology called Wave Gliders, scientists have the rare opportunity to 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. Scientists note that very few volcanic eruptions and lava flows have ever been monitored in real time from the ocean.

The data collected also will 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.

“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,” says UH Hilo geologist Steve Colbert. “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.”

Read more at UH Hilo Stories.

From a Liquid Robotics news release.

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