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How scientists use drones and “dragon eggs” to monitor volcanic activity

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A team of scientists from the University of Bristol have developed a technique for monitoring volcanic activity using drones and “dragon egg” devices.

The volcano experts have collaborated with a startup called Sensor Driven Ltd on the project which drop the gadgets into volcanic craters, landing them on the inside slopes of the craters. These sturdy devices (pictured in the cover photo) can detect vibrations, toxic gases, temperature and humidity in real-time.

Each volcano is utterly unique in terms of their eruption cycle meaning even with good data, it is not possible to know exactly when one will explode. The sensors can, however, give scientists an insight to what’s happening within a particular volcano and provide an indication of a potential eruption. The eggs can broadcast via satellite uplink and relay information back to a station monitored by a volcanologists up to 6 miles (10 kms) away.

The eggs will remain dormant in place on the inner slopes of the volcanic crater and won’t “hatch” until the sensors detect vibrations coming from the volcano. By not being constantly active, the batteries on the dragon egg devices can last for several months on one charge.

The drone’s role in this story is they lower the dragon eggs (using a long rope) in locations that would be difficult and potentially perilous for humans to access. Obviously volcanic craters are an extremely hostile environment but the dragon egg technology could also be used to monitor active earthquake faults, collapsing glaciers or other natural phenomena. According to reporting from IFL Science, the research team plan to deploy a bunch of their eggs in a very active volcanic zone in Rabaul Papua New Guinea later this year.

You can watch a video of one of the dragon eggs being placed in an active volcano below.

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