HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last May, as lava erupted from Kilauea, land surveyors from Stantec put personnel on the ground to stay ahead of the lava flowing from Fissure no. 8.
“We were trying to figure out where it might eventually go,” said Victor Rasgado, Stantec’s senior land surveyor.
Protected by gas detectors and gas masks, he and his team did the grunt work, marking spots and establishing what surveyors call control points.
"We were using anything out on the ground that would be visible from a UAV at 1,000 feet," he said.
Those markers helped the University of Hawaii-Hilo, USGS, and Civil Defense map where the lava had traveled and where it might go.
At the time Stantec GIS analyst Rose Hart worked for UH-Hilo’s Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab. She piloted a drone and collected video while working within tight flight restrictions.
"It's really exciting and cool to see the sheer force and power of nature, Pele. But it's also pretty devastating and sobering to see the destruction that comes from that power and force," she said.
Under the direction of Dr. Ryan Perroy, the lab as well as USGS worked to mobilize and manage UAS operations throughout the eruption event that lasted four months.
The information Hart and Rasgado gathered went straight to Civil Defense.
"They were able to let folks know, 'Hey, it's coming in your direction. Let's start getting people evacuated," Rasgado said.
After the lava stopped in September, Stantec did more documenting to compare the before and after.
All of the data is now in the hands of the University of Hawaii Hilo, USGS and Hawaii County.
"We wanted the information that we collect with the drones to be more than just images," Hart said. "We wanted to really understand how the surface of the earth was changing in that area."
The eruption destroyed hundreds of homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
Authorities will use Stantec's studies to determine where future lava flows might go, and where it might be safe to build.
“We were just fortunate we could help in a small way,” Rasgado said.