Mapping volcanic zones in Iceland and Ethiopia

We’re all living on massive, active tectonic plates. The places where they meet generate earthquakes and volcanic activity that shape the Earth’s surface.

Joël Ruch is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Geneva. He and his research team use drones, satellite data and ground surveying methods to study plates that spread apart–i.e., divergent plate boundaries–where magma intrusions create new Earth’s crust. In fact, 98% of these active sites are located on the ocean floor. The remaining 2 % on land provide a unique chance to study tectonic and volcanic activities, particularly in Iceland and Ethiopia.

We used to walk for days to gather details on the geometry of fault and cracks that control magma intrusions. We saw fixed-wing drones as a way to quicken data acquisition and give us more details. VTOL was important so we could map large areas safely even on hard lava ground.

Joël Ruch
Assistant Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Geneva

Over the past 2 years, they’ve flown around 80 missions with WingtraOne to gather geological details they otherwise couldn’t.
“The ground resolution with WingtraOne is great,” Ruch said. “It’s a scale in between satellite and ground surveying. Each scale gives you complementary information and this drone improves the quality of our findings.”


Image credits:

DEM from the Fjallagjà graben with a volcanic vent (central Iceland, August 2019). Credit: Elisabetta Panza (Uni Genève)

WingtraOne flying above the Erta Ale degassing crater (CUSO Doctoral School, Erta Ale caldera, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia, January 2020). Credit: Valentin Rime (Uni Fribourg)

Ruch landing WingtraOne in the Hamadela area in the Danakil Depression (Afar, Ethiopia) during the CUSO doctoral school (organized by the Universities of Fribourg, Addis Ababa and Geneva, January 2020). Credit: Valentin Rime (Uni Fribourg)

Four-square image: Upper left: End of the mission in central Iceland at the front of the Bræðrafell cabin, Kollottadingja and Eggert volcanic areas (August 2020); Credit: Joël Ruch Upper right: Ready for take off at -120 meters below sea level, Dallol and Black Mountain areas, Danakil Depression (Afar, Ethiopia, January 2020); Credit: Joël Ruch Lower left: Walking with our material to the Bræðrafell cabin, Kollottadingja and Eggert volcanic areas, central Iceland (August 2020); Credit: Joël Ruch Lower right: Discussion between Elisabetta Panza (Uni Genève), Addis Endeshaw (Uni Fribourg) and Stefano Mannini (Uni Genève) before take off (Afar, Ethiopia, January 2020). Credit: Joël Ruch

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