Air quality sensors and volcanoes, making the invisible visible - Kunak
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Air quality sensor stations and active volcanoes – a monitoring task for our Kunak Air Pro

Air quality sensors and volcanoes: Kunak monitors the environment around the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma
Reading time 3 min

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Air quality sensors and volcanoes are closely linked. Not surprisingly, the emissions from volcanic eruptions modify the levels of atmospheric pollution.
  • 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.

From a scenic point of view, volcanic eruptions represent one of the most magnificent spectacles that nature can offer. In fact, active volcanoes are real attractions for thousands of curious onlookers.

But beyond the lava streams flowing down the slopes and devastating everything in their path, an erupting volcano causes other impacts, especially on the atmosphere, generating long-lasting effects.

The aim of this article is to explain why it is necessary to monitor the environmental conditions 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). Show you, in short, the relationship between air quality sensor-based systems and volcanoes.

Erupting volcanoes: not only lava

One of the aspects that the volcano of La Palma shows 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 since, in addition to lava, volcanoes emit harmful gases and ash.

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

What effects do volcanic eruptions have on air quality?

Atmospheric emissions from a volcanoes fall mainly into two categories:

  • Particulate matter (including ash)
  • Gaseous emissions

Particulate matter

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

Gaseous emissions

Regarding air quality, our focus is on the particles and toxic gases that remain in the atmosphere, among which we can distinguish:

  • Coarse, fine and ultrafine particulate matter (PM10, PM5 and PM1). Some of the larger particulate matter (PM10) will be retained by nasal hair, but the smaller particles (PM2.5 and PM1) can reach deeper into the respiratory system.
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2), which in the presence of water turns into sulphuric acid. Causes irritation and inflammation of the ocular and respiratory mucous membranes.
  • Hydrogen sulphide (H2S), easily noticeable by its distinctive rotten egg aroma, it is toxic in high concentrations
  • Volatile organic compounds, which include a large group of hydrocarbons such as benzene, 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, in addition to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4) and which, together, make up what is known as vog or volcanic smog. But the elements listed above are the ones 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 sea water, rich in sodium chloride, generating hydrochloric acid.

Air quality sensors and volcanoes, making the invisible visible

The previous sections clearly show the importance of real-time air quality monitoring. After all, volcanoes such as Cumbre Vieja eventually become authentic ‘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,  as can be seen in this RTVE video, which shows one of the stations sent to the UME (Military Emergency Unit) deployed on the island

The following image also shows the information that this equipment sends to our Kunak Cloud platform.

Air quality sensors and volcanoes: Kunak monitors the environment around the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma

The presence of our air pollution sensors on the island of La Palma proves how useful these monitoring solutions are as a complement to the reference stations. Immediate readings can be obtained thanks to its reliability and ease of installation.

This way, the information gathered through sensor systems helps to strengthen air quality decision-making.

Conclusion

A volcanic eruption is both a spectacle and a threat. But continuous monitoring can help reduce its damage, especially to health. This is a benefit highlighted by monitoring initiatives such as the one that has been used at the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii for several years. At Kunak we are very proud of this task, because there is no better way to show how useful our technology is than to deploy it where it is most needed.