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Vulcan meets Gaea

By [email protected] - 22nd August 2019 - 12:49

There’s no doubt that the volcano is one of the most powerful and dangerous phenomena in nature. Exploding with more power than a nuclear weapon, it can destroy towns and cities, wiping out all life in the process, leaving its mark for millennia to come.

The Roman town of Pompeii was famously trapped like a fly in amber by the cocooning ash of the eruption of Vesuvius and can be explored by visitors to this today, where they can see how people lived – and died – in the town. Meanwhile, the legend of Atlantis is thought to come from the destruction of the civilisation on the Greek island of Santorini by the volcano at its centre in the late Bronze age – transforming the ring-like caldera into a very different into a very different structure.

In more modern times, the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 could be heard 4,800km away and led to global cooling of 1.2ºC the following year, with global weather not returning to normal for five years. Small wonder that even the word for it is associated with the gods themselves – volcano coming from the Roman god Vulcan.

Of course, nothing can be done to stop the eruption of a volcano, but we can at least be prepared for it and its aftermath. And in this issue, we look at how geospatial technology is being used as part of this.

Italy’s Mount Etna – not far from Vesuvius and Pompeii – has erupted periodically for millennia, with the latest ‘Strombolian activity’ this July producing lava flows and ash that affected the terrain and nearby communities, and forced the temporary closure of nearby airports. Nevertheless, despite its continued activity, a group of brave scientists ventured into it to survey it, so they can model it and spot changes. On page 34, John Stenmark follows them in – metaphorically, anyway – to discover the results.

Meanwhile, last year’s saw the eruption of KÄ«lauea in Hawaii. The devastation caused was considerable and one of the main tasks facing the government was to work out the extent of the damage, as well as the loss of life. Here, UAVs played a role.

On page 43, Andrea Massey explains how a small fleet of ‘disaster robots’ was used to aid disaster response in the months-long eruption of KÄ«lauea in Hawaii that destroyed 700 homes. As well as giving rise to new firsts in technology applications, including a UAV strike team, the volcano became the most monitored and scientifically understood in history.

I hope you enjoy the issue and find it useful in your work.

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