Unmanned Wave Gliders Deployed to Capture Live Ocean Data from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Lava Flow

Unmanned Wave Gliders were recently deployed to capture live ocean data close to where lava is flowing from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano. Photo: Liquid Robotics, A Boeing Company.

Two Liquid Robotics Wave Gliders were recently deployed to capture live ocean data close to where lava is flowing from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano.

The autonomous ocean robots enable scientists to study the effects of lava entering the ocean, the plume it creates and the interactions of lava and seawater directly from the surface of the ocean, according to a news release. The Wave Gliders will operate for three weeks in a precise zig zag course that is about 300m+ from the lava flow plume to collect rare subsurface, surface and atmospheric data.

“The effect of this massive lava flow entering the ocean is dramatic and amazing, but at the same time somewhat mysterious” said Roger Hine, CTO and co-founder of Liquid Robotics, according to the release. “Detailed measurements of the ocean plume and the ecosystems it impacts are now possible and safe to obtain with unmanned systems like our Wave Gliders. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to deploy our ocean robots to help advance science.”

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS-HVO) are involved with the project. The Wave Gliders are equipped with a variety of sophisticated sensors to measure water temperatures, oxygen levels, pH levels, salinity, turbidity, conductivity and underwater acoustics. The Wave Gliders will stay on station, continuously capturing sustained, high resolution measurements and imagery.

The data will also help scientists observe the impact of volcanic eruptions and lava flows on marine life in real time, as well as air quality affecting the Hawaiian islands.

Using the Wave Gliders, researchers can collect data without sending a research ship, which puts humans at risk.

“The plume of hot, sediment-laden water generated by the lava flowing into the ocean spreads out, impacting surrounding ecosystems and permitted boaters operating in the area,” said Dr. Steve Colbert, University of Hawai’i at Hilo, according to the release. “We don’t know how far and how deep that plume extends, or how it changes with oceanographic conditions or changes in the flow of lava. The Wave Gliders provide us the opportunity to answer these important questions.”