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Building resilience through drone-based strategies for volcano monitoring

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Sedgwick Club Conference 2019

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a developing nation with high volcanic risk. This elevated risk profile is a consequence of high volcanic hazard, from the many active volcanoes in PNG that erupt frequently and explosively, combined with high vulnerability of local populations. At both community- and government-levels, funds are extremely limited for disaster preparedness and response, which in turn reduces the capacity of the population to respond resiliently in the event of a crisis. This vulnerability is amplified by the distribution of rural populations in small, isolated populations often very close to volcanoes, as the rugged terrain and a lack of technological infrastructure make the transport of people/aid and the communication of hazard challenging. In recent volcanic crises, eruptions have not been forecast and monitoring has been limited to ground-based visual observations; this lack of quantitative data places insurmountable constraints on the ability of the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory to monitor and respond to evolving hazards. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or ‘drones’, have developed rapidly over the last few years as a tool in volcanology, accompanied by a drive towards miniaturisation of traditional ground-based instruments. I will discuss on-going work into the development and deployment of novel drones for volcanic gas measurements, and how this research is being translated into tangible impact for volcano monitoring. I will present the rationale and successes/lessons learned from a recent drone training workshop held in PNG , and outline the future potential for local scientists and disaster management coordinators to continue to build resilience through drone-based strategies.

Dr Emma Liu is a volcanologist in the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge. She is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow and a Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College. Her research focuses on exploring the physical and chemical controls on the magnitude and impacts of volcanic emissions; including volcanic ash, gas, and metal aerosols. A key part of her research is the development of long-range drone technology to improve our ability to access volcanic plumes. In 2018, she was awarded a L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Fellowship for her work into drone-based methods for volcanic aerosol sampling.

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