Somehow, the end-of-the-season post from Nial on Erebus was shoved under a pile of papers on our desk. But now, and not too late we hope, it’s resurfaced. Here is a belated update (from a few weeks ago) detailing the end of the field season on Erebus for 2012-2013. Everyone’s off the ice now and on their way to their respective homes. Here’s how the last few weeks went for Nial:
The season is starting to wind down now with only six of us left up on the volcano. I only have until the 8th January up on Erebus, so it is now a last minute rush to get everything finished off! The new power system has been working flawlessly (well pretty much!) for a few weeks now, and today the last of the old system got removed. The thermal camera system has a few strange bugs in it, which I have so far failed to track down. It is working reliably enough though, and I’m confident that it will continue to record images until the power runs out (or all year, if the wind generators survive).
We have bad weather for the past week, so not much work outside has got done. Yesterday it cleared though, and now it is glorious! The list of things to do has been drawn up, and now that the good weather has arrived everyone is rushing around trying to get things finished. Yeti (a ground penetrating radar robot – see this link) finally arrived yesterday after being delayed for 5 weeks! So the cave team is out late tonight taking radar data at Warren Cave.
Volcanofile Nial Peters (Mr. Fix-it) saw a problem that needed solving, a niche that needed filling. What’s the best way to scan, either vertically or horizontally, through a volcanic plume in order to measure the flux of SO2 from a volcano? His answer: AvoScan.
Essentially, AvoScan is a lightweight, low-power, portable scanning unit designed for use with OceanOptics spectrometers. Built in is a motorized rotating mount for a standard UV spectrometer telescope. The device is connected to a laptop via USB and is controlled through the open source program AvoScan written in Python programming language. The software has an intuitive GUI that allows the user to select scanning speed, name files, etc. The software accurately records the angle at which each spectra is taken and can then be matched to the files output by the spectrometer after a day’s work in the field.
“AvoScan was built in the field for use in the field,” says Nial Peters, inventor of AvoScan. “Field equipment has to be simple and intuitive to use. It should solve the actual problems of collecting data in the field, not just the ones that you can anticipate whilst sat in your office.” Because AvoScan is lightweight and portable, it doesn’t add to your already overstocked luggage allowance on flights out to the field. And because AvoScans enables traverses of a volcanic plume to be measured from a static location, there is no more need for driving around volcanoes on roads that may or may not be drivable!
“Scientific research is underpinned by the peer review process,” says Peters. “You wouldn’t believe someone’s results unless you could see their methodology. Why should the hardware/software used in research be any different?”
“Furthermore, most research problems are so specific that no software exists to cover them. Having to start a software project from scratch is a pain. It is much better to start with a program that mostly does what you want and then to tweak it to your specific needs. You can’t do that with a closed source program.”
The AvoScan software is already available online at Google Code http://code.google.com/p/avoscan/.
Peters adds, “however, it is far from finished! I am concentrating on getting the new version of the scanning unit finished and tested at the moment. Once that is done, then I will make more of an effort to tidy up the code and put some hardware specs up online.”
AvoScan is a work in progress. Think of v1.0 as a working beta. Version 2.0 will be a new and improved, weather-proofed AvoScanner with loads of extra features (built in camera for sighting, internal compass and accelerometers, extra USB ports, serial port…). As soon as specs and new code is available, look for it here on The Volcanofiles.
For now, here is a sneak peak of the AvoScanner v2.0!