February 7, 1997

Mary Hardin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone: 818/354-5011)

RELEASE: 97-25


NASA scientists are developing and using a variety of airborne and spaceborne remote-sensing tools to study potentially dangerous volcanoes that could one day threaten populated areas in the United States and around the world.

A number of domestic volcanoes are being studied, including Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington; Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak in California; and Kilauea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Using information collected with the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X- band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR), the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AIRSAR), the Airborne Emission Spectrometer (AES), the Thermal Infrared Multispectral Scanner (TIMS), the airborne Laser Altimeter Facility, and the Shuttle Laser Altimeter, the scientists have created computer visualization products such as three-dimensional "flyover" video animation clips that help them study how the volcanoes are changing.

"Imaging radar is a particularly useful tool for studying volcanoes because the radar is able to see through the weather and volcanic clouds. It's a good tool for mapping new volcanic deposits because of the radar's sensitivity to texture such as ash and different types of lava flows," said Dr. Jeffrey J. Plaut, SIR-C experiment scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. "We are using radar data to study the dormant lava domes in Long Valley, CA, so we can understand how lava is placed during eruptions. Understanding the eruptive process helps us know where lava will flow, and that has bearing on the hazards that are posed to the nearby communities, including the Mammoth Mountain ski areas."

"By combining the radar data with information from scanning laser altimeters, we are now tracking changes at the summits of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier that will document the impact of erosion, climate and other factors on the topography and stability of large volcanoes," said Dr. James B. Garvin, chief scientist for the Shuttle Laser Altimeter at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt, MD. "These laser altimeters also have successfully measured the flank topography of volcanoes beneath their tree canopies. This is important because many of the most dangerous volcanoes are heavily vegetated, and the subtleties of their local relief must be known to accurately predict the path of their flows."

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