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How A.I. captured a volcano's changing lava lake

22 March 2017

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One of our planet's few exposed lava lakes is changing, and artificial intelligence is helping NASA understand how.

On 21 January, a fissure opened at the top of Ethiopia's Erta Ale volcano - one of the few in the world with an active lava lake in its caldera. Volcanologists sent out requests for NASA's Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft to image the eruption, which was large enough to begin reshaping the volcano's summit.

As it turned out, that spacecraft was already busy collecting data of the lava lake. Alerted by a detection from another satellite, an artificial intelligence (A.I.) system had ordered it to look at the volcano. By the time scientists needed these images, they were already processed and on the ground.

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies - Artificial intelligence onboard NASA's Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft assisted in imaging an eruption at Erta'Ale volcano, Ethiopia, from an altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers). The observation was scheduled autonomously via the Volcano Sensor Web, which was alerted to this new activity by data from another spacecraft.