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Remote monitoring of Mount Erebus Volcano, Antarctica, using Polar Orbiters: Progress and Prospects

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Mount Erebus (Antarctica) is a remote and inhospitable volcano, where field campaigns are possible only during the austral summer. In addition to continuously monitoring seismic instruments and video cameras, data from scanners flown aboard polar orbiting space-craft, such as the Thematic Mapper (TM) and Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), can contribute to continuous, year-round monitoring of this volcano. Together these data allow measurement of the temperature of, thermal and gas flux from, and mass flux to a persistently active lava lake at Erebus' summit. The monitoring potential of such polar-orbiting instruments is enhanced by the poleward convergence of sub-spacecraft ground-tracks at the Erebus latitudes, permitting more frequent return periods than at the equator. Ground-based observations show that the Erebus lava lake was active with an area of ~2800m2 and sulphur dioxide (SO2) flux of (230 +/- 90)td-1 prior to September 1984. AVHRR-based lake area and SO2 flux estimates are in good agreement with these measurements, giving (2320 +/- 1200)m2 and (190 +/- 100)td-1, respectively, during 1980. However during late-1984 the lava lake became buried, with TM data showing re-establishment of the lake, with a TM-derived surface temperature of 578-903 C, by January 1985. Following these events, ground-based lake area and SO2 flux measurements show that the lake area and SO2 flux was lower (180-630m2 and 9-91td-1, respectively). This is matched by a decline in the AVHRR- and TM-derived rate of magma supply to the lake from 330 167kgs-1 prior to 1984 to 30-76kgs-1 thereafter. Clearly, a reduction in magma supply to, and activity at, the lava lake occurred during 1984. We look forward to using data from such future polar-orbiting sensors as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS), Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflectance Radiometer (ASTER), Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) and Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AASTR) to contribute to high (once a day) temporal resolution measurement and monitoring of activity at this volcano. Such analyses will in turn contribute to a more complete understanding of how this volcano works.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1999-10-15

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