Sensor-based air quality stations and active volcanoes – a task for our Kunak AIR Pro

November 27, 2021

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Air quality sensors and volcanoes are closely linked. Not surprisingly, since emissions from volcanic eruptions change air pollution levels.
  • The main emissions from a volcano are particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and volatile organic compounds.
  • Kunak, through its Kunak Air Pro air quality sensor stations, is monitoring the environmental conditions around the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma.

 

Volcanic eruptions, from a scenic point of view, represent one of nature’s most magnificent spectacles. Active volcanoes, in fact, are real attractions that draw thousands of curious onlookers.

But beyond the lava flows snaking down the slopes and devastating everything in their path, an erupting volcano has other impacts, especially on the atmosphere, generating effects that can last for a long time.

So our intention with this article is to detail why it is necessary to monitor environmental conditions in the shadow of these magma-spewing giants. And how our Kunak AIR Pro is being put to the test in the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands). To show you, in short, the relationship between air quality sensor-based systems and volcanoes.

 

Erupting volcanoes: lava and something else

One of the aspects that the La Palma volcano is revealing is how quickly environmental conditions can vary depending on the weather and volcanic activity. Thus, air quality has become one of the most interesting indicators. And no wonder, since a volcano, besides lava, emits noxious gases and ash.

But let’s take a closer look at these volcanic emissions.

 

What effects does a volcanic eruption have on air quality?

Atmospheric emissions from a volcano fall mainly into two categories:

  • Airborne particles (this includes ash)
  • Gaseous emissions

 

Suspended particles

In the case of particles, the larger solid material ends up deposited on the ground, burying houses, structures and crops (as is happening with banana plantations, one of the main economic activities in the Canary Islands). Time will show the future consequences of this ash on ecosystems or water resources, for example.

Look at this two-storey house completely covered by ash from the La Palma volcano. Only its two chimneys are visible. pic.twitter.com/v3buLvsQlJ

— Emilio Morenatti (@EmilioMorenatti) November 7, 2021

 

Gaseous emissions

or air quality purposes, our focus is on particulate matter and toxic gases that remain in the atmosphere, among which we can distinguish:

  • Coarse, fine and ultrafine suspended particles (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1). Some of the larger particulate matter (PM10) will be retained by the nasal hair. But the smaller particles (PM2.5 and PM1) are able to reach deeper into the respiratory system.
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2), in the presence of water, is converted to sulphuric acid. It causes irritation and inflammation of the eye and respiratory mucous membranes.
  • Hydrogen sulphide (H2S), is easily perceptible by its characteristic smell of rotten eggs and which is toxic in high concentrations.
  • Volatile organic compounds, which include a large group of hydrocarbons such as benzene, are known to be carcinogenic, or toluene, a precursor of tropospheric ozone or “bad ozone”.

Other substances such as carbon monoxide (CO) or hydrogen chloride (HCl) are also released, as well as greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4), which together make up what is known as volcanic smog. But it is the elements listed above that, in high concentrations, can pose the greatest risk to health.

In this sense, a critical moment is usually when the lava flows come into contact with seawater, which is rich in sodium chloride, generating hydrochloric acid.

 

New entrance of the lava to the sea at 1:15 pm (Canarian time) pic.twitter.com/GErXGNBNp7

— INVOLCAN (@involcan) November 16, 2021

 

Air quality sensors and volcanoes, making the invisible visible

The previous sections make clear the importance of monitoring air quality in real-time. After all, volcanoes such as Cumbre Vieja end up becoming veritable “laboratories” where thousands of people gather, in addition to the residents themselves, whose health must be protected.

In this situation, sensor-based air quality stations such as the Kunak AIR Pro play a decisive role. And that is, in fact, what they are doing, as shown in this RTVE video showing one of the stations sent to the Military Emergency Unit (UME) deployed on the island.

 

 

In the following image, you can also see the information that these devices send to our Kunak AIR Cloud platform.

Sensores de calidad del aire y volcanes: Kunak monitoriza el entorno del volcán de Cumbre Vieja en La Palma

 

The presence of our air pollution sensors on the island of La Palma is proof of how useful these monitoring solutions are as a complement to the reference stations. Their reliability and ease of installation allow immediate readings to be obtained.

In this way, the information gathered through the sensor systems contributes to reinforcing decision-making related to air quality.

 

Conclusion

A volcanic eruption is equal parts spectacle and threat. But continuous monitoring can help reduce damage, especially to health. This is a benefit highlighted by monitoring initiatives such as the one that has been in place at Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano for several years. And it is a work that we at Kunak are very proud of because there is no better way to demonstrate the usefulness of our technology than to deploy it where it is most needed.