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Published 2 February 2018

EQC grants help volcano drones and other Victoria research take flight

Victoria University of Wellington-led development of drones that are able to fly close to active volcanoes and withstand, monitor and analyse their emissions which could transform the forecasting of volcanic eruptions

Victoria’s Dr Ian Schipper is Principal Investigator on the drone project, with Associate Researchers at GNS Science, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the Institute of Research for Development in France. The project is one of five led by the University to secure funding in the 2018 Biennial Grants Programme of the Earthquake Commission (EQC). 

Dr Schipper says the team aims to develop and apply drone—or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—technology “to monitor and characterise volcanoes and forecast eruptions more thoroughly, more accurately and more safely, and to address fundamental scientific questions about chemical reactions in active plumes directly at their sources.
“Together, these will provide essential information about the range and magnitude of airborne volcanic hazards in New Zealand, and will provide tools for assessing these hazards and informing civil defence authorities during future periods of volcanic unrest.”

The project builds on an initial effort to use UAV technology to measure emissions from active volcanoes in South America as part of the recently completed Trail by Fire research expedition, and on the monitoring and analysis of emissions in GNS Science and GeoNet programmes on New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island in the Bay of Plenty.
Dr Schipper and his colleagues have already developed and carried out preliminary tests using a prototype UAV system. Because volcanic plumes are rich in water, acids and other corrosive chemicals, one of the tasks ahead will be refining protection of easily damaged instruments and other electronics.
It is important New Zealand asserts itself as a global player in applying emerging technologies to “our natural volcanic laboratories”, says Dr Schipper. “Given we currently understand almost nothing of volcanic plume chemistry and processes, we’re confident the gain in knowledge from this project will deliver answers to questions we haven’t even yet thought to ask.”


For more information please contact Victoria University Communications Manager Sarah Boyd