Volcanic GIS: Mapping and imaging the Kilauea eruption

August 16, 2018  - By 1 Comments

A number of geospatial companies played a key role in the government’s response to the Kilauea Volcano eruption. The volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii began erupting May 3, and while quiet for more than a week, it could resume erupting at any time.

Kilauea lava flow. (Photo: Frontier Precision)

Kilauea lava flow. (Photo: Frontier Precision)

Mapping the flow. As a resident of Hawaii, Brennan O’Neill, Hawaiian branch manager of Frontier Precision, was in a unique position to offer support. Frontier Precision provided free access to technology and expertise to assist in mapping the lava flow.

“I had to help out,” O’Neill said. “It was tearing at my soul. For a geologist, it’s even more powerful than that. The lava flow is like a living mass that has a mind of its own, creeping, glowing — an upside-down conveyor belt surging forward and burning everything in its path.”

Through Frontier Precision, O’Neill offered high-tech mapping equipment, his own expertise, and the help of Nathan Stephenson, an applied geospatial engineer working in the company’s Denver office.

“We used a combination of Trimble R10s and Trimble R8s to gather accurate data points on the ground,” Stephenson said.

This thermal map shows the fissure system and lava flows as of 6 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11. The thermal map was constructed by stitching many overlapping oblique thermal images collected by a handheld thermal camera during a helicopter overflight of the flow field. The base is a copyrighted color satellite image (used with permission) provided by Digital Globe. (Map: USGS)

This thermal map shows the fissure system and lava flows as of 6 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11. The thermal map was constructed by stitching many overlapping oblique thermal images collected by a handheld thermal camera during a helicopter overflight of the flow field. The base is a copyrighted color satellite image (used with permission) provided by Digital Globe. (Map: USGS)

The mapping team flew UAS drones over the flow to gather visual imagery data, matched it to the ground reference points, stitched the photos together and draped it over county maps. The process was repeated as often as needed — daily, and sometimes even hourly — to show the speed and direction of the flow.

Stephenson isn’t new to mapping lava flows. As a graduate student at the University of Hawaii – Hilo, he worked on collecting data on the Pahoa eruption in 2014, and he’s seen advances in technology in just a few years.

“One thing we have now that we didn’t have in 2014 was a thermal radiometric camera that helps us map more accurately at night and enables us to capture large heat signatures.”

The collected data helps Hawaii Civil Defense and other agencies keep the public informed and safe, and in the long term it also contributes to the store of scientific knowledge about eruptions and lava flow behavior.

Lidar image of the Hawaii dataset showing the Kilauea Calderand the Halena'uma'u Crater and within it. (Image: Quantum Spatial)

Lidar image of the Hawaii dataset showing the Kilauea Calderand the Halena’uma’u Crater and within it. (Image: Quantum Spatial)

Airborne lidar insights. Another technology that aids in volcano response is lidar. High-resolution lidar surveys help first responders, scientists and government agencies monitor Kilauea conditions and predict future lava flows.

Independent geospatial data firm Quantum Spatial Inc. (QSI) has conducted high-resolution lidar surveys of areas surrounding the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii.

The emergency response effort was part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Rapid Response Imagery Products (RRIP) in support of the Kilauea’s 2018 East Rift Zone – Remote Sensing Acquisition Requirement.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), along with emergency responders, government agencies and academics, will use the data to better understand the conditions and characteristics of the volcano, and help planners model potential lava flows, which may better predict and respond to future flows and enhance safety of residents.

The QSI team, which included GEO1 and Windward Aviation, deployed within days to acquire high-resolution lidar at point densities averaging from 40 to 80 ppsm, with up to 150 ppsm in select areas and 100-mp digital imagery using a Riegl dual VUX-1 LR sensor pod equipped with ABGPS/IMU mounted on a Hughes 500D helicopter.

The project required 11 missions over the course of six days, operating at times as low as 500 feet above the ground and above active flows and nearby erupting calderas. With a need for a quick turn around, QSI deployed an analyst with the flight crew to post process each mission within hours of collection.

The data was uploaded to the Geospatial Repository and Data Management System (GRiD) interface, developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), where additional data products have been developed and provided to the response team that includes FEMA, Hawaii’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Hawaii County Civil Defense.

After data collection, QSI measured topographic shifts during the processing by comparing new data with a 2011 lidar collection from the same area. Survey specialists and USGS experts confirmed within hours of processing QSI’s lidar data that areas within the site had shifted up to 1.5 meters east, 2 meters to the north and 1 meter in elevation.

USGS scientists will continue to examine the new topographic data to better understand the nature of these shifts, and integrate it into lava flow models for more accurate predictive modeling.

CRASAR volunteers use UAS to map the flow of lava. (Photo: CRASAR)

CRASAR volunteers use UAS to map the flow of lava. (Photo: CRASAR)

The eruption in action. Using small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) together with air-quality sensors, advanced imaging tools and Esri’s spatial analytics and mapping, a team from the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) provided real-time aerial views of the eruption.

The five volunteers armed with drones, advanced sensor systems and GIS technologies joined the response effort May 14-19 at Kilauea Volcano Lower East Rift Zone to assist in tracking and predicting the ongoing volcanic eruption. The team supplemented the University of Hawaii Hilo’s (UHH) sUAS capabilities, allowing UHH sUAS operators to focus on geographical and volcanology.

The CRASAR team identified a new fissure not visible from the ground, projected the lava flow rate during the night when manned helicopters were not allowed to fly, and provided ongoing data collection from new thermal sensors technology.

After the project, CRASAR published lessons learned on its blog:

  • Night flights of UAVs are very effective.
  • Rotorcraft UAVs can effectively sample gas.
  • Rotorcraft UAVs with thermal sensors are very effective.
  • Rotorcraft UAVs provide a quick look at lava flow rates.
  • Plumes will interfere with photogrammetric mapping.
  • Hanger 360 (software) rapidly produced panoramas.

During the six-day Leilani deployment, the CRASAR team flew 44 sUAS flights, including 16 at night, using DJI 200, 210, Inspire, and Mavic Pro drones. Esri’s Drone2Map for ArcGIS together with Hangar’s Enterprise Platform for 360-degree imaging enabled rapid 360-imaging for situational awareness.

DJI’s new XT2 thermal sensor provided unprecedented drone-based air-quality monitoring. Video and data were shared with local first responders using FirstNet, the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.

Image: CRASAR

Image: CRASAR

The CRASAR response marks the first known use of sUAS for emergency response to a volcanic eruption and first known use of sUAS for sampling air quality.

The GIS mapping and imaging technologies responders used on the scene at Kilauea Volcano Lower East Rift Zone are available here.

Tracy Cozzens

About the Author:

Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

1 Comment on "Volcanic GIS: Mapping and imaging the Kilauea eruption"

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  1. Craig Roberts says:

    Wow…that Brennan O’Neill sounds like a real-life Pierce Brosnan from Dante’s Peak. What an amazing man!

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