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Congo receives help from space after volcano eruption
Date:1/22/2010

eophysics/Astrophysics Department of the National Museum of Natural History in Luxembourg. "In this situation, it is crucial to monitor the flow size, direction and speed for the authorities to be able to make timely decisions."

Lava flows can be mapped by comparing satellite radar images acquired before and after the eruption. In the images, old lava appears bright white. If an area appears white in before images and black in after images, then the ground has changed between acquisitions by the flow of new lava.

By comparing images acquired over the area before and after the eruption by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) on Envisat, the GORISK team was able to detect a lava flow in the main caldera and one of the paths of the flows.

Although scientists are not worried about the lava flow reaching Lake Kivu during this eruption, they continue to observe the situation. If lava were to flow into the lake, as has occurred several times in the recent past, there is a small chance that it might trigger the gas (mainly carbon dioxide and methane) in the lake to release quickly.

This mixture could create a flammable cloud with possible catastrophic consequences, as in 1986 when Lake Nyos in Cameroon released a cloud of gas that killed more than 1700 people. Scientists think lava flows that reach the lake after 20 km are not harmful for the lake itself.

To learn how the ground deformed during the volcanic eruption, the team used a technique called 'SAR interferometry', or InSAR, to construct an 'interferogram' image by analysing the differences between two radar signals taken over the same area on Earth at different times.

The first interferogram processed after the onset of the eruption, based on data from 7 December 2009 and 8 January 2010, shows the ground deformation due to the eruption. A complete set of coloured bands, called 'fringes', represents ground movement relative to the spacecraft of 2.8 cm
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Contact: Robert Meisner
robert.meisner@esa.int
39-069-418-0874
European Space Agency
Source:Eurekalert

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