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Ocean Robots Collect Data From Kīlauea Flow

June 27, 2018, 10:05 AM HST (Updated June 27, 2018, 10:05 AM)
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Two Liquid Robotics Wave Gliders off Kapoho Bay. PC: Liquid Robotics, A Boeing Company.

Liquid Robotics Wave Glider off Kapoho Bay. PC: Liquid Robotics, A Boeing Company.

Liquid Robotics deployed two Wave Gliders, autonomous ocean robots, to capture live ocean data close to where lava is flowing into the ocean Tfrom Kilauea Volcano.

By using this unmanned technology, scientists have the rare opportunity to study the effects of lava entering the ocean, the plume it creates and the interactions of the lava and seawater directly from the surface of the ocean.

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Scientists note that very few volcanic eruptions and lava flows have ever been monitored in real time from the ocean.

Over the next three weeks, the Wave Gliders will operate a precise zig zag course, approximately 300 meters from the lava flow plume, collecting rare subsurface, surface and atmospheric data.

Working with top researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the Wave Gliders host a wide
assortment of sophisticated sensors to measure water temperatures, oxygen levels, pH levels, salinity,
turbidity, conductivity and underwater acoustics.

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The Wave Gliders will stay on station, continuously capturing sustained, high-resolution measurements and imagery throughout the mission.

“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. “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.”

By using an unmanned ocean robot vs. sending a research ship, scientists can collect data on
this rare volcanic event without risk to humans.

This point was made upon arrival of the first Wave Glider at the lava flow location, where surface water temperatures measured above 120°F—conditions dangerous for humans, but less so for ocean robots.

“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. “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.”

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.

As a company with roots on Hawai‘i island and a dedication to care for the environment and Hawai‘i’s communities, Liquid Robotics said understanding the quality of the lava haze (laze) generated by Kilauea is of great importance.

About Liquid Robotics, A Boeing Company

Liquid Robotics designs and manufactures the Wave Glider, the first wave and solar powered unmanned ocean robot. With its partners, the company addresses many of the planet’s greatest challenges by transforming how to assess, monitor and protect the ocean. The company solves critical problems for defense, commercial and science customers. Liquid Robotics and Wave Glider are registered trademarks of Liquid Robotics Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company.

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