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Flying a drone into a volcano (petapixel.com)
265 points by giuliomagnifico 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

The “what happens” from the last paragraph:

“The light under the drone was melted, and sensors were damaged from the extreme heat. He reports that the drone still works, but the vision sensor underneath no longer functions and gives constant errors during flights.“

I was also amused by the Reddit post - https://www.reddit.com/r/Iceland/comments/mdrz95/into_the_vo...

> So I wonder how many drones this volcano has eaten so far?

to which the OP replies:

> Haha at least 2 that i know of...

which gets a response of:

> This one, and the one before this one where you forgot to hit the record button?

and the OP:

> Correct (:facepalm:)

> So I wonder how many drones this volcano has eaten so far?

Perhaps it's a good way to deal with our e-waste?

Ignoring the logistics what are the downsides of dumping toxic waste into lava considering how long the lava would be stable once it has cooled?

The first problem is there's not enough lava. Per a few sources there have been about 6 billion tons/tonnes of solid plastic waste since the mid-20th century; assuming the density of PVC, .05 g/cm^3, my napkin math says this is over 100 cubic kilometers of plastic waste, or enough to build a small volcano on its own.

(edit) You said "ignoring the logistics" so I agree with the other commenter, the outgassing of the burning would be environmentally devastating. Lava doesn't instantly vaporize things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXJfg_JIUZA

There is certainly enough lava. The eruption that occurred in 2018 in my home town produced 1 billion cubic yards or 914402.757839 cubic kilometers.


I imaging the outgassing of the plastic would be pretty terrible but the volcanic gas is pretty damaging too. But yes, I imagine there are a hundred different reasons this wouldn't really work out.

I don’t think that math is right. 1 billion cubic yards is like less than 1 cubic km.

You are correct. I messed that up bad and forgot how dimensions worked.

Yet even ignoring those two issues, you included 12 significant figures on a number that was likely 10% off in the first place.

Nitpick: PVC sinks in water. That would make it over 1g/cm³.

Polypropylene and polyethylene do float, but don’t come near 0.05g/cm³. They’re closer to 0.9g/cm³ (https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-pl...). That’s close to icebergs.

You are right, seems I had a bad source—density is closer to 1.1-1.5 g/cm^3 than the 0.5 I used. So only 50 cubic km...

In your post you mentioned 0.05, so that's not a factor of 3 off of 1.5, but instead a factor of 30...

A little more formally, with sources:

Density of plastic: https://omnexus.specialchem.com/polymer-properties/propertie... - Eyeballed at 1.2 g/cm^3

Plastic waste, lifetime: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782 - 6.3 megatonnes (2017)

6.3 Mt / (1.2 g/cm^3) = 5250000 (5.25 million) m^3 = 0.00525 km^3

You were right! My math was way off. Thanks for noticing. This is a great demonstration of peer review :)

Toxic waste getting vaporized would be my biggest concern.

That's actually how its often gotten rid of - https://frtr.gov/matrix2/section4/4-23.html

> temperatures, 870 to 1,200 °C (1,400 to 2,200 °F), are used to volatilize and combust (in the presence of oxygen) halogenated and other refractory organics in hazardous wastes. Often auxiliary fuels are employed to initiate and sustain combustion. The destruction and removal efficiency (DRE) for properly operated incinerators exceeds the 99.99% requirement for hazardous waste and can be operated to meet the 99.9999% requirement for PCBs and dioxins. Off gases and combustion residuals generally require treatment.

And lava is in the range of 700 °C to 1300 °C. So... that could work.

With regular waste incinerators, the issue is the treatment of the gas... which... well... they already have issues with - https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/volcano-hazards/volcani...

That said...


> I was recently asked by a fairly small and young human why we don't just throw a lot of our waste into volcanoes – specifically, into the ones that have lava lakes, like Hawaii's Kilauea or the Democratic Republic of Congo's Nyiragongo.

> ...

> It's certainly a question that deserves an answer. Well, sadly, that answer probably isn’t the one you’re hoping for. As I've explained in a previous Forbes piece, lava lakes are complex things. They're extremely hot, and can melt plenty of things, that's for sure. However, they can't melt everything, and humanity has invented plenty of materials that would simply float atop the surface.

I read an article that proposed burying nuclear waste in the fracture zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


Wouldn't you rather want to bury it in a subduction zone? Dumping it where new crust is being created seems like a strange solution...

I think that Sauron has voiced objection.

If you dump something radioactive into a volcano, now you have a radioactive volcano, which is not better

The vast majority of "toxic waste" is chemically toxic not radioactive.

I wonder if at least some volcanos might be radioactive ? The stuff is comming from deep below & there are theories the core is being kept molten thanks to decay of radioactive elements, so I wonder if some of that might get up occasionally ?

Or is that nonsense as core is much much deeper and there is hardly any mixibg goin on between the layers?

Another one of these videos [0] popped up on reddit [1] the other day. This time with an FPV quad. I think it's a better video, though no report on the damage.

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pMO5b3c9YY

2: https://www.reddit.com/r/fpv/comments/mckrbz/a_different_vie...

Hey, that's me flying the drone!

There was absolutely no heat damage. I assume it's because we were in the heat for such a short time, and the air temperature was below freezing that day. Also, the drone flies pretty fast. Regardless, I was genuinely surprised that there was no damage.

If you like the linked video, you should see how it looked a night: instagram.com/icelandaerials

I'd love to see your conversation with DJI repairs.

Can't imagine they get volcano-damaged drones into their lab very often!

I wonder how much those amateur videos helps real science. Is there anything useful for science to be extracted from that video? I personally think, that modern society with lots of powerful gadgets available and with power of the Internet provides a lot of data which waits to be processed by a competent scientists, but may be I'm overestimating it.

to me, if the scientists wanted footage, they'd rent a real helicopter and use real cameras with really nice lenses so they can hover at a nice safe and comfortable distance, yet still get the footage needed.

flying a $1k toy into high temperatures is just an attempt at a stock fotog to get some footage and some publicity. science was nowhere near on the agenda. the guy runs a stock photo company specializing in aerials.

Ahahahaa... try to get funding for that.. -sigh- If you're trying to protect a city from an ongoing eruption you might have a chance.

So, the $1k toy is actually being trialed around the world, just with more complex instrumentation. You can get closer without risking anyone, and you can make much more frequent measurements since it's so much cheaper. The biggest problem is the wind and turbulence (since volcanoes are mountains with a heat source, and almost nobody in the field is an experienced drone pilot).

Not sure there is a safe distance above an erupting volcano...

I'm sure you can use a better camera, but I think in 2021, you definitely use unmanned drones.

It's fine when you know your volcano. Not all of them are the exploding kind.

(Especially Hawaiian and the Icelandic volcanoes are usually not that bad (unless the eruption is below a glacier, that's quite explosive).)

They certainly do it, haven't heard of any accidents yet: https://www.bigislandhelicoptertours.com/

Yeah, I've actually flown over the active volcano with them!

Not sure if we went directly over the crater, but either way, that's an eruption that has gone on for decades, and behaves in known ways.

The Iceland eruption is a few days fresh.

If it's not safe enough to fly a helicopter, it would also mean it's not safe enough to be close enough to fly a $1k drone, legally.

Ah, guess who makes the rules about how close you may be to an active volcano? It's usually the corresponding observatory, and they are valid for the public, not for the scientists.

And then, safe just means nobody gets hurt. The volcano will eat some instrumentation anyway at some point, probably. They often do. Plus, the sulfuric acid plume emissions will damage your gear if you get caught in it.

Something like a DJI Mavic Air (which is more like $1.5k than $1k) will happily get 5-10km range.

The risks associated with being 5km away piloting a drone and in a helicopter full of people overhead is radically different.

I mean, I wouldn't have wanted to be only 5km away from Mt St Helens when It blew its top ~40 years ago, but that one had spent 6 weeks giving off 4 and 5 magnitude earthquake warnings...

I think there's be a huge range of volcanos where it'd be risky to overfly in a helicopter risking human life, but where it'd be perfectly safe and sensible to fly drones for fun/curiosity/commercial-stock-footage/education/some-possible-eventual-science-benefit. I mean the major reason _not_ to overfly sites with drones are entirely absent, there's nobody and nothing valuable to hit and nothing for a drone battery to set fire to if you crash one on a lava field...

There have been scientists at the site at Geldingadalir since the first day of eruption as well as helicopter flyovers.

As far as I know there are a lot of amateur astronomers that are making meaningful contributions. This video feels more like a cool stunt that won't give new insights.

It could be interesting though, if one added a few smaller instruments. CO2 and SO2 sensors, temperature, humidity and more.. do it frequently enough, calibrate well throughout, keep good records and the scientific community would definitely be interested in the data. (If they can be convinced you did a good job with the trustworthiness.)

It might be a stunt, but it also encourages experiments which is helpful for scientists (and even in software, product development, advertising, business, etc).

How amateur astronomers do that? I've looked up for this kind of project back in ~2008 but now that I live in a big city I stopping caring. Now I might move away due to remote work, any good projects to work on?

At least the video game industry should benefit from this, as they'll be able to create more realistic simulations.

While I don't need "true life like" video game simulations - dramatic storytelling enhancements will do - it'd be cool to pilot a mech through such terrain.

I have terrible luck with drones, and with my most recent purchase bought DJI’s refresh program. There’s an upfront cost that I can’t recall, then for up to two occasions they will replace your drone for $70 regardless of what happens. It probably runs more for the Mavic 2 than my Mavic Air 2, but for me it’s nice insurance.

That's great until you get your drone stuck up in a tree on a hillside somewhere.

What do you mean?

User: "I lost my drone."

Mavic: "Ok here's a new one."

pretty sure when I bought the refresh package in 2019 they still required you send the "corpse" to get a replacement

They added flyaway coverage it seems. It's a little pricey but I can understand why - https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/26/22251294/dji-mavic-air-mi...

This is correct - they'll ship you a replacement when you report the loss but you still have to return the casualty.

Man discovers lava is hot.

I'm sure DJI will send him a new one as a thanks for the advertising.

That was annoying. Totally unbrowsable

I remember this guy flying a drone over a whole in a lake. Its been a long time, maybe someone else has seen it. Its like a whole in the middle of a lake, and water floats in. So I guess it some ways its like the exact opposite of this video.

I'm sorry, but I'm having a really hard time comprehending what you're saying here. Can you elaborate?

I think he is referring to this video: https://youtu.be/VVw5XCUxgfk

Thanks that's it


Its an overflow/drain/spillway in a dam lake

Thanks, I don't know what I was thinking when I typed that.

No worries! I'm sorry if my comment read as harping on a spelling mistake. In light of the correction, I feel stupid now :-)

I’m assuming the parent is talking about Lake Berryessa: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/lake-berr...

Yes, that's it

Warranty void if seal broken or roasted off.

I wonder if coherent optical fiber networks could be put there to take videos at extremely high temperature?

All that for a 380p vertical video?

I've just discovered that there's many ways to circumvent the flight limitations (factory-imposed) that drones have, e.g. [0] or [1]

I am wondering why authorities are enable to either shut down these things, or sue the authors, or do something about it.

[0]: https://nolimitdronez.com/

[1]: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.just4funto...

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