Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider USVs help study effects of lava flow from Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano

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Liquid Robotics recently deployed two of its Wave Glider USVs to help scientist study the effects of the lava from Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii when it enters the ocean and the large plume it creates, as well as the impacts on marine life.

As evident by its name, the Wave Glider is wave powered, meaning that it doesn't require any fuel power other than the waves of the ocean to carry it place to place. In this particular use case, Wave Gliders provide researchers a no risk way to monitor the volcanic activity. 

“The robots are out surveying the ocean plume and collecting both water data, acoustic data and atmospheric data all at the same time,” says Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Liquid Robotics, Roger Hine, via KITV.

Over the past few weeks, the Wave Gliders have been continuously traveling in a zig-zag course about 300 meters from the lava plume in where surface water temperatures measure above 120 degrees.

The USVs are equipped with sensors that are able to measure water temperature, pH levels, oxygen levels, and underwater acoustics.

“What's neat about the Wave Glider is that it can measure right close to the surface where the float is, but then there is also this cord that goes down to the sub that is 16 ft. below the surface.. so we're also getting a vertical picture at the same time,” explains Dr. Steve Colbert of University of Hawai'i at Hilo. 

“To get such large volume of data in different parameters, and being able to sort through.. process it-- its real, real exciting information.”

According to scientists, very few volcanic eruptions or lava flows have been monitored in real time from the ocean. Hine notes that unmanned robots such as Wave Gliders are capable of collecting detailed measurements, as well as other data from areas that would otherwise be unsafe for humans to go. 

“We have much more confidence to have it (Wave Gliders) go downwind from where the laze plume could all of sudden blow over it and it really wouldn't hurt the robot, whereas it could be a really bad scene for researchers on a boat,” Hine says.

Ultimately, Wave Gliders give researchers the chance to “dive deeper and better understand” the impacts of Kilauea's lava flow, researchers say.