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Insight... A Look @ ISU’s VAPOR + Volcanoes
authors: SSP Team Project, International Space University

This article summarizes the work performed by the Volcanic Activity: Processing of Observation and Remote Sensing Data (VAPOR) team during the International Space University Space Studies Program in Barcelona, Spain. The objective of the VAPOR project is to improve early warning and hazard tracking capabilities as they pertain to volcanic activity. The main deliverable of this project is a framework for the design of a system capable of integrating data from global providers, standardizing that data, processing it into useful information, and disseminating both data and information to the necessary end-users.

The mission statement includes the terms “early warning” and “hazard tracking”. Early warning is defined as monitoring and reporting on the probability of an eruption during the period from the first sign of a possible eruption, as provided by existing monitoring systems, up to the point of the eruption. The development of a long term monitoring system is not considered part of this project. Hazard tracking is defined as monitoring and reporting on volcanic hazards during and post eruption.

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The framework has implications for policy, law, economics and society at large. Policy and law issues include governance, data collection and standards, licensing and liability. Societal impacts include the potential benefits of such a system and the facilitation of local community awareness of volcanic hazards.

Economic aspects include funding and business models. The framework is not the system itself. The design and implementation of such a system is well beyond the scope of this project. Instead, this project has done the preliminary work of identifying a need for this system and establishing a list of requirements that such a system would need to satisfy.

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Why Volcanoes?
Volcanic eruptions are one of Earth’s most dramatic and violent agents of change. Notorious eruptions in the past, such as Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. St. Helens, have demonstrated the devastating impact a volcano can have on landscapes and communities.

There are more than 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, many of them in populated areas, making volcanoes an important threat to the safety of human lives. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the two most important volcanic disasters in terms of deaths were the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée in French Martinique and the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia with a combined death toll of over 50,000. However, the number of people simply affected by eruptions (i.e., requiring immediate assistance during a period of emergency) must also be taken into account.

In 1991, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in The Philippines killed less than 1,000 people but affected more than one million people. Table 1 below shows estimated values of volcanic damage according to human impact.

Integrating ground-based, air-borne and space-based sensor technology is a task many organizations have attempted, each with varying levels of function and capability.

Volcano Fundamentals
To propose a framework for volcano early warning and hazard tracking, the basics of how volcanoes work must first be understood. The Earth is composed of three principal layers: the core, the mantle and the crust. The lithosphere, consisting of the outer crust and the upper-most solid mantle, is divided into plates. These plates, as shown in Figure 1 drift very slowly over the mantle.

The activity at the boundary between some of these plates, as shown in Figure 2, causes the solid mantle material to melt, producing magma. A volcano is any place on Earth where magma from the mantle makes its way through the outer crust to the surface of the Earth.

The eruptive products of volcanoes are highly variable and largely dependent on the composition, viscosity and gas content of the erupting magma. Hazards include lava flows, tephra, pyroclastic flows, lahars, landslides and gas emissions. These hazards are represented pictorially in Figure 3.

isu f1+2 sm 070810 Lava flows are masses of magma that pour out of the volcano. Tephra are fragments of volcanic rock and lava that are blasted into the air by explosions or carried upward by hot gases. Pyroclastic flows are a mixture of fragments and hot gases that flow down the side of a volcano like an avalanche. Lahars are a mixture of water and tephra that can flow down slopes at speeds similar to fast-moving streams of water. Landslides are large masses of rock and soil that fall or slide under the force of gravity. Finally, gas emissions are the release of hot and toxic gases. These hazards can either be triggered directly by a volcanic eruption or as the result of another hazard. Volcano hazards can also lead to other natural phenomena such as floods, tsunamis (large sea waves), earthquakes, and storms, just as other natural phenomena can trigger a volcanic eruption.

Existing Systems
Various technologies already exist to monitor volcanoes. Many organizations are already actively involved in hazard assessment and early warning systems. It is important to understand these existing technologies and systems to be able to propose recommendations for an integrated framework for volcano early warning and hazard tracking. Existing technologies are classified Into three categories: ground-based, air-borne and space-based.

Ground-based sensors include, but are not limited to: seismometers, electronic distance measurements, tiltmeters, borehole strainmeters, sprectrometers, magnetometers, gravimeters, acoustic flow monitors, hydrological and electric field sensors, and sensor networks. Figure 4 shows an array of ground-based sensors.

The investigation of current technologies and existing systems led to a gap analysis to identify areas where improvements could be made. Gaps were identified in technological, aviation and policy areas.

Gap Analysis
isu f3 sm 070810 Technological gaps include lack of consistent monitoring capability and data format in ground-based and air-borne sensors, and limitations due to available satellite coverage, weather interference and inconsistent format for space-based sensors. Databases that house volcano information from all three groups of sensor platforms are infrequently updated.

Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers, as well as many individual volcano observatories, use different data formats, different modeling tools and do not communicate effectively between them. Volcano monitoring and early warning systems in developing nations are insufficient or non-existent.

Aviation gaps include a lack of timely delivery of warning to aircraft to avoid ash plumes, lack of understanding of minimum tolerable ash plume concentration that aircraft can fly into, and variations in data based on detection methods.

For example, volcanic ash in the eruption cloud, as shown in Figure 6, can rise to the height of commercial airliners in as little as five minutes but ash plume tracking information can take as long as 1.5 hours to get to the pilots of those airliners.

Policy gaps primarily pertain to the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, which provides countries that have been affected by a volcanic eruption with space-based processed data products. In the past it has taken as many as 16 days before the Charter was activated (see Figure 7).

System Requirements
isu f4 sm 070810 Before a system framework can be developed, the requirements for that system must first be deve;p[ed. These requirements are classified into four categories: end-user, early warning, hazard tracking and general system requirements. The requirements for early warning and hazard tracking are defined independently as they represent tasks that the system must be able to carry out separately.

isu f5 sm 070810 For the end-user requirements, the system must be capable of providing information to at least five classes of end-users: the aviation community, private citizens, emergency crews, authorities, and the scientific community.

The information provided to each end-user should allow them to plan, make decisions and take appropriate actions. End-user requirements have been written with respect to references and not yet in coordination with any specific end-user.

For the early warning requirements, the system must be capable of collecting and analyzing all types of data used to identify potential volcanic activity.

The system must be capable of accessing data that can be used to forecast volcanic eruptions before they occur. It must also be capable of confirming the occurrence of an eruption or its imminent onset.

For the hazard tracking requirements, the system must be capable of accessing data that can be used to track all hazards associated with volcanic activity.

For the general system requirements, the system must be capable of collecting, processing, storing and delivering data coming from different sources.

VIDA Design Framework
To address the gaps in the current technologies and existing systems, the VAPOR team is proposing the VAPOR Integrated Data-sharing and Analysis (VIDA) framework. The VIDA framework will provide uniform storage and easy access to Earth observation data and information. Furthermore, VIDA provides uniform access to services that allow the end-user to process this data and advanced computing facilities for creating knowledge.

The aim of VIDA is not to develop new computing, storing or data providing facilities but rather to integrate existing Earth observation technologies, computing and storage facilities. Figure 8 shows the architecture defined by the VIDA framework. The organizations shown in the figure are only examples and none of them were directly involved in the requirements definition.

VIDA is composed of three different layers: the interface layer, the access layer and the data and information layer. The interface layer contains the interface tools that are employed by end-users to interact with the system. These can be web-based tools on web-enabled devices (e.g., desktops or mobile phones), tools for Geographic Information Systems, broadcast tools for early-warning, or other specific tools to interface with governmental organizations.

isu f6 sm 070810 The access layer provides access to the services of the system and is responsible for creating the content that is sent to the end-users through the interface tools. This layer is composed of the content provider, the service provider and the notification server. The content provider creates the content requested by the end-user via an interface tool. One of the important features of the system is that it is able to select different degrees of detail and complexity of information, depending on the end-user’s needs and technical skills. It allows many different end-users to access the information in an understandable way. The service provider implements the different functions provided by the system. This component coordinates access to the resources managed by the VIDA system. The notification server is responsible for providing notifications to users concerning specific set of events that are detected by the system.

The data and information layer contains the external systems and architectures that provide uniform input and that are integrated into the overall VIDA system. This layer standardizes and unifies specific data formats and specific access procedures for these other systems.

It is composed of the data provider, the knowledge provider, the storage provider and the computing provider. The data provider ensures uniform access to the external systems that provide raw data. The knowledge provider uses various mechanisms to create information and knowledge from the raw data. To do this, capabilities of other systems will be used as well. These mechanisms can be specific tools, methods or algorithms for data processing.

The computing provider and storage provider supply computing and storing facilities to the system and end-users. Similar to the previous components, they unify access to a set of infrastructures that provide these kinds of resources

Alarms And Hazard Warnings
VIDA will provide an interface that can automatically trigger alarms when a hazard has been detected. Authorized users will specify the conditions of when an automatic alarm can be triggered. They will also be able to override the system to either cancel an alarm if one has already been triggered or issue an alarm if one has not yet been automatically triggered.

User Cases
VIDA shall be able to provide different levels of services and privileges to different user groups. Table 3 shows a summary of these services for each of the different user groups.

Governance, Policy and Law
The VIDA framework would be set up by a consortium that initially could be publicly funded. This consortium would be comprised of government agencies and satellite companies that specialize in Earth observation, meteorology and hazard tracking. If a VIDA prototype is established, governance will fall to a private entity, which will be governed by a decision-making body called the Council. The Council would consist of volcanologists and remote sensing experts. Under the Council, a management team would oversee and operate the daily workings of the company.

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Currently, VIDA is simply a framework, but in the future, VIDA could potentially participate in a later phase of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) Pilot Architecture Project within the area of disaster risk management by registering the VIDA system as a GEOSS component and implementing the GEOSS system interoperability arrangement.

VIDA will be able to maintain its own governance structure since GEOSS itself does not have a hierarchical structural system. The success of implementing VIDA will depend on the amount of free data accessible from data providers. However, gaining free data may be complicated by data policies and sharing restrictions of various nations. One issue that might prevent VIDA from functioning is “shutter control” when a government bars remote sensing of certain areas or dissemination of data derived from it. Restrictions in national remote sensing acts influence data flow between data producers and users.

Licensing schemes must be developed for VIDA to provide value-added services and disseminate processed information. Two types of licenses should be developed: one for the incoming data and data providers, and one for the outgoing information for system users.

Business And Financial Aspects
The major potential stakeholders were identified and their interests are shown in Table 4. The major strengths of VIDA are the rapid access to information, the data sharing capabilities, and the scalability. The major weaknesses are cost, size, and complexity. The most important opportunity is the potential for saving lives. The major threat is lack of funding.

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The major risk was identified as the cost of VIDA and related lack or interruption of funding. This was mitigated by the framework’s scalability. Access to data was identified as another significant risk. This was mitigated by accessing readily available free data. Having a false alarm was identified as the final major risk. This was mitigated by having human verification.

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VIDA has been compared to Google Earth, Global Earthquake Model, and GEOSS. From this comparison, the start-up cost of VIDA was estimated to be approximately $5-10 million US. It is expected that funding will come from one or more governments from developed nations that are willing to participate in an international collaborative project. Once established, the project may have a source of funding and functionality within the GEOSS program.

Potential Benefits
The VIDA framework can improve the performance of a wide range of users including:
  • The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters
  • International aid organizations such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement
  • National and Regional Disaster Risk Management Agencies
VIDA cannot change the framework by which the Charter is activated, but it can potentially speed up the activation process by providing those in decision-making positions with critical information.

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By providing a centralized, user-friendly data warehouse of volcano monitoring information, VIDA would give disaster risk management agencies more time to warn the citizens of their countries of an impending eruption. After an eruption event, VIDA data would support the rescue and recovery effort by providing emergency workers with up-to-date information on conditions in the affected region. VIDA could increase the amount of lead-time that agencies have to notify their citizens of an impending hazard, thereby saving lives.

VIDA can also be used as an educational tool. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states that education and information systems will lay the basis for interdisciplinary platforms to manage disaster risks. The VIDA concept of data sharing related to volcanoes is in line with the UNESCO strategy as it will improve information search efficiency, permit the creation of a global knowledge database, and contribute to disaster preparedness and mitigation.

The methods used to characterize and eventually predict the behavior of a given volcano are very data intensive. This data can come in many different forms from an array of sources, sometimes after varying degrees of post-processing. In response to the need for a centralized, user-friendly repository of volcano monitoring data, the VIDA framework has been defined. Within this framework, users from around the world will be allowed access to salient information from ground-based, air-borne and space-based assets and will be provided with data products that meet their individual needs.

Implementation Challenges
A major risk to successful implementation of the proposed framework is finding a continuous and reliable funding source. The system proposed by the VIDA framework would not be sustainable if, after an initial investment period, funding was lost and those relying on its products were left without assistance.

Another substantial implementation challenge is that of governance. The proposed framework could bring substantial benefits to many organizations throughout the world. However, special attention must be paid to the management structure to ensure successful implementation of the system.

isu ecuadorian rc sm 070810 The other major challenge will be collection, standardization, and dissemination of the actual data products. Standardization will require particular attention because the goal set out by the VIDA framework is to provide users with easily-accessed, useful data. Also, proper data formatting must be considered a high priority in order to meet the users’ need for timely information.

Future Work
As has been stated many times, VIDA is only a framework. Substantial work must be done in order for this concept to move from paper to reality but this work is feasible. User requirements have been collated in the full report of this project; a further interactive requirements consolidation process is needed in order to establish the baseline system requirements specification.

isu l sm 070810 This has fallen outside the scope of the present project. In order to move the VIDA framework to a formal definition phase, the system requirements must be verified by those who will interact with the system.

Numerous tools have been developed to support the education of populations around the world who are at risk of being affected by natural phenomena such as volcanoes and VIDA could be one such tool. Additional work should be done to develop a web-portal or some other form of mass data distribution by which larger communities can benefit from the products.

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