“New Face of Exploration” –Drone’s-Eye View Inside a Live Volcano (Today’s “Galaxy” Stream)

 

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In 2015, filmmaker Sam Cossman took a team the edge of Ambrym Volcano‘s Marum Crater located along the Ring of Fire in the Vanuatu Archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, home to one of only seven permanent lava lakes in the world to 3D map its 7.5-mile-wide (12-kilometer) caldera and the spectacular lava lake at its core. As expedition leader, he assembled an all-star team—including climber and photographer Brad Ambrose, videographer Conor Toumarkine, drone expert Simon Jardine, and geobiologist Jeff Marlow.


Drone expert Simon Jardine describes what it was like to fly new technology over this ancient, ever-changing window into our planet: “The hardest part of flying was the hot air rushing out and cold air getting pulled into the lake. The machine would surge forwards and I would pull back on the stick. Then the hot air would blow in my face 10 times hotter than a hairdryer, and I could see the copter blasting back at me…”

Cossman and his team piloted the drones (not all of which survived) over the 7.5-mile-wide (12-kilometer) caldera while confronting toxic gases and boiling lava. Although two drones succumbed to the harsh environment, the team was able to bring back video and photos that will help scientists learn more about the volcano and the life around it.

 

 

“In order to approach the 2,000 degree F lava in close range,” Crossman said, “I wore a custom-built industrial proximity heat suit with an aluminized fiberglass shell and Nomex, fire retardant liner. The suit is built to withstand radiant temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees F. I worked with and was supported by NEWTEX, a pioneer in the niche thermal management apparel industry. The heat-protective face shield is constructed from a polycarbonate, gold-plated lens to filter out strong infra-red and ultra-violet radiation while still absorbing visible light. This is the same material used on spacecraft and astronaut visors.”

 

 

The earliest forms of life on Earth were prokaryotes adapted to extreme environments approximately 3.5 billion years ago. Microbes such as bacteria and archaea (together termed prokaryotes because their DNA floats freely within the cell instead of in a membrane-bound nucleus), and fungi may not only survive but thrive in environments that appear quite inhospitable.

Following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010, scientists analysed samples of the resulting freshly formed basaltic Fimmvörðuháls lava flows, to determine which microbes colonized the lava first. Taking care to avoid contamination, the samples were brought to the UK and crushed to powder to allow the DNA to be extracted. DNA profiling, using a method known for its ability to discriminate among closely related species (16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing), generated community profiles for each lava sample.

The Fimmvörðuháls study revealed that these communities did not rely on organisms that used sunlight, and that many of the inhabitants were organisms that required organic carbon for growth, although some inhabitants were related to those that could use inorganic sources. DNA profiles indicated that some of the Fimmvörðuháls colonists are able to use sulphur and/or iron present in the lava flows as energy sources for growth (chemolithotrophs) and others are able to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere (diazotrophs).

The Daily Galaxy via National Geographic, wired.com and all-geo.org

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