Monitoring toxic gases in Hawaii

Kilauea was erupting on the Big Island of Hawaii for several months during 2018. The volcano has created more land than any other eruption in the past 30 years and was the longest continuous run in the US.

Since ancient times, volcanoes around the world have caused both chaos and tragedy. Some will recall the destructive eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington State in 1980 and the closure of European airspace after the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.

While Kilauea’s historic eruptions last year have provided dramatic spectacles of nature, in its most violent state its tempestuous activity was a threat to the health and safety of residents. Safety concerns lie not only in the obvious threat of lava flows and earthquakes, but also in the contamination of the atmosphere.

With plumes of toxic gases being pumped into the air, the authorities in Hawaii issued health warnings of ash and sulphur dioxide. Local residents were urged to stay indoors and minimise exposure to the toxic gases, which can pose a choking hazard.

Measuring air quality

Working with scientists, the authorities in Hawaii have been monitoring the air quality around the volcano. In a project backed by NASA, a team of academics from the University of Houston and University of St Edward’s headed to Kona on the Big Island to analyse the air quality.

The team contacted Perma Pure for a rush order the company’s exclusive Nafion™ dryer technology to help measuring vertical profiles of sulphur dioxide. Perma Pure's technology was attached to weather balloons to help take measurements downwind of the Kilauea eruption.

Halma company Perma Pure provides unique gas sample conditioning solutions. They use Nafion™ along with a broad array of technology and expertise to help customers analyse gas stream samples safely and accurately.

Launch of weather balloon from Na'alehu Elementary School

There were nine flights of weather balloons, including this one launched from Na’alehu Elementary School in July. Professor Paul Walter, Assistant Professor of Physics from the University of St Edward’s in Austin, told the team at Perma Pure that the data was collected from the instrument attached to a weather balloon and used to learn about the vertical profile of sulphur dioxide, validating the data gathered by satellite. Thanks to the tech from Perma Pure, there were two additional flights that both gathered life-saving data.

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