Marum Crater is one of only seven permanent lava lakes in the world. Located along the Ring of Fire in the Vanuatu Archipelago in the South Pacific, Marum produces 1,000-degree F temps and splattering molten rock.
Not too safe for humans. Unless your Sam Cossman, a self-proclaimed adventurer and filmmaker who recently visited Marum Crater to capture footage and create a 3D map of an active volcano.
Cossman is no scientist, but he’s certainly helping push science in a new direction. Cossman and his team – climber and photographer Brad Ambrose, videographer Conor Toumarkine, drone expert Simon Jardine, and astrobiologist Jeff Marlow – used DJI Phantom 2+ Vision drones equipped with GoPro cameras to capture thousands of photos from above the 7.5-mile-wide crater and created the first 3D model of the volcano as seen from the inside.
Videos: Drones Capture Volcano Eruptions
“The Phantom served as our eye in the sky, identifying obstacles, hazards, and optimal descent routes,” Cossman says in a National Geographic Q&A. “Additionally, the technology aided in identifying previously unknown vents and other hazardous eruptive features.
“The drone was also useful in identifying collection sites for time-zero (red hot) lava sampling. To collect samples, we approached the lava lake in very close proximity (less than 15 meters away where the ambient temperatures can exceed 1,000 degrees F). The drone helped us determine the optimal window of timing for collection by providing real-time reporting of shifting wind directions of super heated toxic gases and determining deadly lava splash footprints in designated sampling zones.”
Unfortunately, some drones were lost in the process. Cossman says some were lost due to splattering lava while others couldn’t handle the 1,000-degree temperatures and toxic fumes. In fact, Cossman had to wear a custom heat suit that could withstand radiant temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees F.
“The drones enabled us to navigate around the gas plumes and perpetually shifting clouds (something that satellite imagery is unable to do) to shoot a series of thousands of images which could be stitched together with photogrammetry software to create the first true to scale, 3-D model of a volcanic crater and lava lake.
“With drones and GPS, we are able to reproducibly report real-time measurements and dimensions of the crater and track change over time, which improves our knowledge of the volcanic process. We were also able to extract volumetric data and identify new hotspots which helps informs risk levels.”[via National Geographic]