Scientists using Bay Area drones to track Kilauea lava flow

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- Scientists are seeing wave top data from the Kilauea lava flow that weren't taken by a manned boat. Instead, Sunnyvale based Liquid Robotics is testing the waters by remote control, with two of their oceangoing Wave Glider drones.

"And we get an update from the wave glider every two minutes," says mission support specialist Ben Harmon, who tracks their progress on a giant monitor.

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The Wave Gliders are powered by the undulating movement of sea water. Co-founder Roger Hine says the newest generation is coated with copper to make them more resistant to marine corrosion. They're also packed with communications equipment that can send back data on the lava's impacts in real time.

"As the lava is entering the ocean, it's now entering on a 2-mile swath of coastline, it's putting in a massive amount of energy and it's affecting the water in profound and visible ways," says Liquid Robotics co-founder Roger Hine.

The Wave Gliders are collecting data on the marine environment that's never been studied in quite this way before, while wading in and out of scalding hot water temperatures that could be dangerous for a normal boat.

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"There is very sensitive echo systems and coral reefs and active fishing zones. So the interactions with the lava and the wildlife is an interesting area of study," Hine believes.

Liquid Robotics deployed two Wave Gliders off the southern tip of the Big Island. The first of the two is heading back to a base where even more detailed data will be downloaded from its sensors to be shared with researchers. Perhaps, giving them a deeper, close-up understanding of this spectacular seismic event.

Written and produced by Timothy Didion

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