Remote sensing and identification of volcanic plumes using fixed-wing UAVs over Volcán de Fuego, Guatemala

Ben Schellenberg*, Tom Richardson, Matt Watson, Colin Greatwood, Robert Clarke, Rick Thomas, Kieran Wood, Jim Freer, Helen Thomas, Emma Liu, Francis Salama, Gustavo Chigna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
475 Downloads (Pure)


This paper describes a series of proof-of-concept Beyond Visual Line Of Sight unmanned aerial vehicle flights which reached a range of up to 9 km and an altitude of 4,410 m Above Mean Sea Level over Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, interacting with the volcanic plume on multiple occasions across a range of different conditions. Volcán de Fuego is an active volcano which emits gas and ash regularly, causing disruption to airlines operating from the international airport 50 km away and impacting the lives of the local population. Collection of data from within the plume develops scientists’ understanding of the composition of the volcano's output and is of use to scientists, aviation, and hazard management groups alike. This paper presents preliminary results of multiple plume interceptions with multiple aircraft, carrying a variety of sensors. A plume-detection metric is introduced, which uses a combination of flight data and atmospheric sensor data to identify flight through a volcanic plume. Future work will develop the automation of plume tracking such that reliable scientific data sets can be gathered in a robust manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1211
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Field Robotics
Issue number7
Early online date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • aerial robotics
  • environmental monitoring


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