Millions of people live in the shadow of active volcanoes but Scottish physicist Andrew McGonigle is using drones to develop ways to predict eruptions.
Researchers have sought ways to predict eruptions for more than a century, a task that sometimes required them to get dangerously close to the volcanoes. McGonigle, based at the University of Sheffield in England, is using modern technology, including small unmanned helicopters and digital cameras to measure the gases in volcanoes and detect forthcoming eruptions. Sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide are the main messengers, bubbling out of the molten rock as the pressure that imprisons them drops.
We’re seeking to find out how volcanoes work and obviously that’s very closely tied to the humanitarian aim, trying to forecast eruptions in order to provide sufficient forewarning for people to evacuate.
For his field work, McGonigle is focusing on volcanoes in southern Italy, Nicaragua and Papua New Guinea. If his method succeeds, and is used in conjunction with other measurements specific to each volcano, the risk of sudden volcanic death will be greatly reduced; those who live around the 550 volcanoes that have been active at some point over the centuries will be soothed in the knowledge they will be warned weeks, even months, in advance of an impending eruption.
Average number of volcano eruptions worldwide each year
People killed by volcanoes in the 20th century