A team of scientists and engineers from the Universities of Birmingham and Bristol have returned from Guatemala where they have been teaching local scientists how to use drones to map a volcanoes.
Supported by the World Bank and the British Embassy in Guatemala, the team have been assisting volcanologists at the Guatemalan government agency responsible for monitoring volcanoes.
The local scientists took part in a four-day workshop led by Dr Rick Thomas from the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science and were trained in safe flight protocols, data acquisition and image processing using quadcopters and 3D modelling software supplied by Agisoft.
The Fuego volcano violently erupted earlier this year and resulted in several hundred deaths in Guatemala’s deadliest eruption since 1929.
Following that catastrophe it is hoped drones can be used to monitor active volcanoes in order to foresee an occurrence like this happening again so locals can take the necessary safety measures.
On the program, Dr Thomas said: “Flying commercial quadcopters is generally very easy, but flying them safely, legally and repeatedly for scientific purposes is more challenging. This workshop shared knowledge and practices developed for repeated safe drone flying to enable the regular production of high quality 3D maps in difficult terrain.”
He added: “By building this capacity within the government agency we hope their scientists will have an improved capability to assess risks for the benefit of the local population.”
In conjunction with this work, and integrating with the Guatemalan air traffic control (DJAC), the team also flew larger, fixed-wing drones over the summit of Fuego volcano, at a University of Bristol record altitude of 14,500ft above sea level.
This flight managed to capture the summit meaning the team were able to predict when and where the next paroxysmal eruption would occur with considerable accuracy.
Watch some of the footage captured here: