The USGS National Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office, the USGS Cascades Volcano Center, and Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Aviation Services (OAS) trained personnel and equipment were deployed on May 17, 2018, to support the remote sensing data acquisition needed for monitoring eruptions of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. Proper authorizations from the Federal Aviation Administration, DOI agencies, and the local emergency operations organizations were established and approved for an extended period of UAS operations. Multiple USGS and Bureau of Land Management offices with UAS capabilities were called upon for the extended UAS response. Over 800 individual flights and 200 hours of data were collected through July 31, with an average of 25 flights occurring for each 24-hour day and night response period.
Monitoring the volcanic activity using thermal and visible video imagery, gas sensing on board the UAS, and still-frame imagery provided data for situational awareness, three-dimensional mapping, flow estimations and extents, and gas emission measurements. Areas of data acquisition included the national park summit area, craters, and volcanic fissures around the island. The real-time monitoring of the volcano area for scientific measurements and modeling helped scientists predict future activity and provided high-resolution data for local county and fire emergency responders with the latest information available, including investigation of lava-surrounded communities for potentially stranded people and delivery of live video feeds of lava flow conditions/paths to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in support of emergency evacuation efforts.
USGS and Office of Aviation Services UAS operators monitor the geothermal plant activities at night utilizing the aircraft with onboard video and gas-sensing capabilities.