Sheffield scientists use smartphone technology to monitor volcanoes

Credit: Dr Tom Pering

Scientists at the University of Sheffield are set to use revolutionary ultraviolet camera smartphone technology to monitor volcanoes in Northern Chile.

Dr Andrew McGonigle and Dr Tom Pering from the University’s Department of Geography have been awarded a contract to monitor volcanoes including Lascar and Lastarria with gas sensing technology developed within the Sheffield Volcanology Group.

The scientists’ work using the low-cost equipment – which is 10 times cheaper than previously applied camera technology – will help predict volcanic eruptions and protect ‘at risk’ communities. The units enable imaging of the gas released from volcanoes at safe distances from the source, providing valuable information for volcano monitoring agencies.

The technology has already been used for individual field campaign deployments in Hawaii, Chile, Perú, Ecuador, Vanuatu, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea and Italy, in partnership with local volcano monitoring agencies – leading to important advances in our understanding of how underground gas flow processes drive activity observed at the surface.

This latest project will enable automation of these devices, so they can gather valuable longer-term monitoring data to track activity trends through time.

The academics’ work has been sponsored by Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Rolex, and Dr McGonigle is featured in an ongoing media campaign of international magazine and television adverts, appearing alongside other Rolex ambassadors including Sir Edmund Hillary in publications such as Time Magazine.

Dr McGonigle is also set to speak about his work at the forthcoming Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, where he will exchange with a Nobel Laureate on the challenges scientists meet in difficult environments and on how science can help us monitor an ever-changing world.

Following on from a Royal Society grant researching Stromboli volcano in Italy and Yasur volcano in Vanuatu, Dr Pering has secured funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund to return to Vanuatu to continue work there with the low-cost monitoring technology.

Dr Andrew McGonigle, Reader in Volcano Remote Sensing at the University of Sheffield, said: “Half a billion people in the world live at volcano risk and in the majority of cases, they’re in countries that have very low budgets for monitoring equipment.

“But this low-cost smartphone technology could be used anywhere, helping to predict volcanic eruptions and protect the most vulnerable communities.”

Dr Tom Pering, a Lecturer at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography, said: “It’s great to be a part of such an exciting project, which will hopefully enable volcano remote sensing technology to be more accessible to those who need it most.”


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