NASA Drones Study Costa Rica Volcano

by / April 2, 2013

In an effort to improve the remote-sensing capability of satellites -- and to improve computer models of how and where volcanic plumes will travel -- a team of deployed three repurposed military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with special instruments into and above the noxious sulfur dioxide plume of Costa Rica's active Turrialba volcano, near San Jose, according to NASA.

Between March 11 and March 14, the team, led by principal investigator David Pieri of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., launched 10 flights of the remote controlled UAVs into the volcanic plume and above the rim of Turrialba's 10,500-foot summit crater. 

The small Dragon Eye UAVs have visible and infrared video cameras, and can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour within a volcanic plume. The researchers equipped them with sulfur dioxide and particle sensors, and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles programmed to measure sulfur dioxide concentration. 

Scientists believe computer models derived from this study will contribute to safeguarding the National and International Airspace System, and will also improve global climate predictions and mitigate environmental hazards (e.g., sulfur dioxide volcanic smog, or "vog") for people who live near volcanoes. 

All images courtesy NASA/Matthew Fladeland