The drone swarm of GEOMAR

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PYROTRACES - Unraveling the inner workings of pyroclastic flows

Pyroclastic flows - a hot mix of gas, volcanic ash and rock fragments that moves like a snow avalanche - are amongst the most destructive hazards caused by a volcanic eruption. They develop spontaneously, move fast, and their exact trajectory is hard to predict. In this project - funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung - we aim to comprehensively obtain parameters determining flow behaviour. These will provide crucial input for numerical flow simulations and improved hazard assessment for one of the deadliest volcanic threats. Our drones will be utilised to produce high-resolution topographic maps of the volcanic flanks and be equipped with infrared sensitive cameras to obtain thermal images of pyroclastic flows.

Going one step further, we aim to measure the temperature inside such a flow for the very first time. In collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering of Kiel University, we are working on the construction of a device consisting of a heat- and shock-proof shell that protects enclosed sensors. This device (a "Pyrotracer") shall be released from hovering drones and record temperature, while being transported within a pyroclastic flow. It will thereby provide unprecedented insights on the temperature distribution within pyroclastic flows and its effect on flow dynamics and destructive potential.