Friday, February 17, 2012

NASA MODIS Satellite Captures Remote Eruption

Some volcanoes are simply too remote, or obscure to have regular monitoring by human eyes. That's where NASA's MODIS satellite comes in to fill the gap. From monitoring volcanoes in Alaska's Aleutian islands, to the most remote volcanic islands like Ascensión, MODIS has been able to capture remote volcanoes doing their thing while nobody's watching. MODIS just captured the very remote and uninhabited Tinakula island in a steam emitting eruptive phase. This would have gone unnoticed by us humans if not for the satellite.

Image from NASA MODIS Satellite of Tinakula in eruption.

The isolated volcano is surrounded by a series of small coral atolls, and sits about 20 miles NNW of Nendo Island of the Solomons. The island was not always uninhabited. An eruption in 1840 produced catastrophic pyroclastic flows that covered the entire island, and annihilated the small indigenous population that called it home. No efforts by anyone have been made to re-establish a population (gee, I wonder why?). The volcano is frequently seen in eruption by passers by, and has been since colonial times.

NASA's MODIS satellite has been busy lately keeping track of the slowly erupting Cleveland Volcano in Alaska, as it continues to be on alert level Orange (out of green, yellow, orange, red) as it effuses a slowly growing lava dome at its summit. AVO speculates that the slow eruption could burst into a more explosive phase at any time, so flights over the volcano are not permitted at this time.

MODIS has thermal sensors to detect heat anomalies, ash emissions, and steam. With a high resolution telescopic camera, the images it is capable of producing are highly detailed. It is capable of seeing wavelengths that our eyes cannot, which proved useful in detecting lava flows from Nyamuragira volcano in the Congo, as well as the new eruption of the long dormant Nabro volcano in Eritrea.

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