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May 31, 2001

NASA device used for remote volcano monitoring

The first images generated by NASA's Advanced Space-borne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) show that the instrument is an ideal tool for remote volcanic monitoring, according to Pitt researcher Michael Ramsey.

Ramsey, director of Pitt's Image Visualization and Infrared Spectroscopy laboratory and an associate professor of geology and planetary science, is part of a team of scientists that presented the first results May 29 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Boston.

ASTER is an imaging instrument aboard Terra, a satellite launched in 1999 as part of NASA's Earth Observing System. The instrument combines three imaging technologies — visible/near infrared, short-wave infrared and thermal infrared — to obtain detailed maps of land surface temperature, emissions, reflective qualities and elevation.

Using ASTER images, Ramsey studied volcanic activity in the Soufri?re Hills Volcano on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat, and the Bezymianny Volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia during the past nine months.

"The high spatial and spectral resolution of ASTER, coupled with the excellent radiometric accuracy, makes ASTER an ideal tool for detecting temperature changes and volcanic monitoring," Ramsey said.

ASTER takes "snapshots" of the Earth about every five days.

"Because ASTER doesn't have fast repeat times, we aren't in a position to watch eruptions begin and progress," said Ramsey. "But we can observe changes on the week timescale. This is very important after the initial eruption and the formation of a lava dome. These act like corks in many ways and subtle changes reveal information about potential eruptions."

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