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Liquid Robotics has deployed two Wave Glider USVs to collect live ocean data close to Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano lava flow, the company announced on 25 June.

Working with researchers from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the Wave Gliders will operate a precise zig zag course over a three week period, approximately 300m from the lava flow plume collecting rare subsurface, surface and atmospheric data.

The Wave Gliders will carry a range of sensors to measure water temperature, oxygen levels, pH levels, salinity, turbidity, conductivity and underwater acoustics. The USVs will stay on station, continuously capturing sustained, high resolution measurements and imagery throughout the mission.

The USVs will give scientists the opportunity to study the effects of the lava entering the ocean, the plume it creates and the interactions of the lava and seawater directly from the surface of the ocean. Very few volcanic eruptions and lava flows have ever been monitored in real time from the ocean.

Data collected by the Wave Gliders will also help scientists observe in real time the impact of volcanic eruptions and lava flows on marine life (coral reefs and fish populations) and air quality affecting the Hawaiian Islands.

Steve Colbert, University of Hawaii at Hilo, said: ‘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.

‘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.’