Hazards Data Distribution System Releases Thousands of Aerial Images of Kilauea Impact

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The eruptive behavior of the Kilauea volcano that began in May 2018 on Hawaii’s Big Island has created an unparalleled opportunity for understanding volcanic systems.

Leilani Estates Lava Flow

Lava flows through what was a residential area of Leilani Estates in Hawaii on June 16, 2018. The photo is among the 14,464 taken as “ground truth” data for a 3D elevation mapping mission in areas around the Kilauea caldera. All the imagery is available to the public through the Hazards Data Distribution System.

(Public domain.)

The months-long event marks the first major summit eruption on Kilauea in nearly a century and the largest summit collapse since at least 1800. Lava flows have slowed but continue today, four months after the activity began.

Scientists have taken several steps to monitor and document the historic event. One of those steps recently led to the public release of nearly 14,500 high-resolution aerial images of the impacted areas.

The collection is part of a U.S. Geological Survey project to document the topographic impact of the caldera’s slow collapse.

The USGS commissioned a series of flights earlier this year to document conditions around the Kilauea Summit Caldera and other hotspots. Aerial imagery will be used alongside Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) point cloud data to create 3D elevation maps. The photographs serve as “ground truth” data for the LiDAR mission. The new data can then be compared with a 2011 LiDAR collection over the same area.

The aerial imagery, which was collected in mid-June, is now archived in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Hazards Data Distribution System (HDDS), which ingests and distributes satellite and other remotely- sensed data gathered in response to natural or man-made disasters.

HDDS is maintained by the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, SD. 

In total, 14,464 aerial images of areas impacted by the Kilauea volcano are available through the HDDS Explorer website.

Along with the aerial photography, the HDDS collection of Kilauea imagery includes hundreds of scenes from the USGS Landsat satellites, the Indian Space Resource Organization’s (ISRO) Resourcesat, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel series. The archive also includes satellite imagery from commercial providers.

LiDAR point cloud data from the topography mission will be archived this year.

Imagery documenting the long-lasting Kilauea lava flow is likely to continue rolling into the archive for several months, according to Ryan Longhenry, the HDDS Project Manager at EROS.

“Scientists are watching where the actual lava is flowing,” Longhenry said. “The volcano there has made its own bank, and it has a river of lava that’s flowing out. Some damage is done, and they are hoping this fissure will slowly start to reduce activity. If it increases activity, or if something causes (the lava) to jump the banks, they’ve got a whole other problem on their hands.”

HDDS monitors dozens of disasters around the world each year, often in conjunction with the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.

In 2018, those disasters have included wildfires moving through the western United States, the Volcan De Fuego eruption in Guatemala, and flooding in Japan and India. Monitoring activity is expected to increase as the 2018 hurricane season begins, with HDDS serving as a critical hub for information as storms reach land. The passing of Hurricane Lane put the Island of Hawaii in a flash flood watch over the weekend.

Image-based maps, disaster reports, and other informational products are also available for some emergency events.

For more information on HDDS, visit https://hdds.usgs.gov. Follow HDDS on Twitter for notifications of new image ingestions and reports about ongoing disasters.

More information on the Kilauea volcano can be found at https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/

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