NASA Airborne Radar Set To Image Hawaiian Volcano

The Kilauea volcano that recently erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii will be the target for a NASA study to help scientists better understand processes occurring under Earth's surface. The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, uses a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar that sends pulses of microwave energy from the aircraft to the ground to detect and measure very subtle deformations in Earth's surface, such as those caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and glacier movements. As the Gulfstream-III flies at an altitude of about 12,500 meters (41,000 feet), the radar, located in a pod under the aircraft's belly, will collect data over Kilauea.

The UAVSAR's first data acquisitions over this volcanic region took place in January 2010, when the radar flew over the volcano daily for a week. The UAVSAR detected deflation of Kilauea's caldera over one day, part of a series of deflation-inflation events observed at Kilauea as magma is pumped into the volcano's east rift zone.
This month's flights will repeat the 2010 flight paths to an accuracy of within 5 meters, or about 16.5 feet, assisted by a Platform Precision Autopilot designed by engineers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. By comparing these camera-like images, interferograms are formed that reveal changes in Earth's surface.

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