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Ocean robots help researchers study the impact of Kilauea lava flow

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A pair of Wave Gliders get up close to collect real-time data near where lava from Kilauea Volcano reaches the ocean. The unmanned ocean robots provides researchers a no risk way to monitor the volcanic activity. 

"It's wave powered, so it doesn't require any fuel power other than the waves of the ocean to carry it place to place," said Dr. Steve Colbert of University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

Liquid Robotics deployed two Wave Gliders in mid-June to help scientist study the effects of the lava entering the ocean and the large plume it creates, as well as the impacts on marine life.

"The robots are out surveying the ocean plume and collecting both water data, acoustic data and atmospheric data all at the same time," said Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Liquid Robotics, Roger Hine.

For the past couple of weeks, the robots have been continuously traveling in a zig-zag course about 300 meters from the lava plume in where surface water temps measure above 120 degrees.

Partnering with researchers from University of Hawaii at Hilo and USGS, the Wave Gliders have been equipped with sensors that are able to measure water temperature, pH levels, oxygen levels, underwater acoustics.

"What's neat about the Wave Glider is that it can measure right close to the surface where the float is, but then there is also this cord that goes down to the sub that is 16 ft. below the surface.. so we're also getting a vertical picture at the same time," said Dr. Colbert. "To get such large volume of data in different parameters, and being able to sort through.. process it-- its real, real exciting information." 

Scientists have noted that very few volcanic eruptions or lava flows have been monitored in real time from the ocean. Hine says unmanned robots, or Wave Gliders, are able to collect detailed measurements and additional data from areas that would otherwise be unsafe for humans to go. 

"We have much more confidence to have it (Wave Gliders) go downwind from where the laze plume could all of sudden blow over it and it really wouldn't hurt the robot, whereas it could be a really bad scene for researchers on a boat," added Hine.

Researchers say Wave Gliders give them the chance to dive deeper and better understand the impacts of Kilauea's lava flow. 

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