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Kilauea’s effect on Earth’s crust to be observed with special radar

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NASA will begin a nine-day mission tomorrow using special radar to study the eruption of Kilauea volcano.

A NASA Gulfstream III aircraft with specialized instrumentation from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., will be using an “interferometric synthetic aperture radar” developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasa­dena, Calif.

The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar sends pulses of microwave energy from the aircraft to the ground to detect and measure subtle deformations in Earth’s surface, such as those caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and glacier movements.

As the airplane flies at an altitude of about 41,000 feet, the radar, located in a pod under its belly, will collect data over Kilauea, a NASA news release said.

The radar’s first data acquisitions over this volcanic region took place in January 2010, when the radar was flown over the volcano daily for a week. The UAVSAR detected deflation of Kilauea’s caldera over one day, part of a series of deflation-inflation events as magma was pumped into the volcano’s east rift zone.

Next week’s flights will repeat the 2010 flight paths to an accuracy of within 5 meters, or about 16.5 feet, assisted by a Platform Precision Autopilot designed by engineers at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Comparing these images forms interferograms that reveal changes in Earth’s surface.

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