Uncrewed vessel successfully completes volcano caldera survey in Tonga

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SEA-KIT International’s Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) Maxlimer has returned from an initial survey mission inside the caldera of the Hunga- Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai (HT–HH) volcano carrying a plethora of data and imagery to fill important gaps in current understanding and knowledge of the seamount and water above it.

For the ongoing second phase of the NIWA/Nippon Foundation Tonga Eruption Seabed Mapping Project – TESMaP, funded by The Nippon Foundation, USV Maxlimer is equipped with a Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) to acoustically measure depth and state of the seabed. Importantly, the vessel also has new winch capability for deployment of multiple sensors down to 300 metres to obtain direct water column measurements.

Dr Mike Williams, Chief Scientist-Oceans at NIWA said: “The data and imagery that Maxlimer has brought back is astounding and is helping us to see how the volcano has changed since the eruption.”

The 12-metre USV is being remotely controlled on its caldera missions from SEA-KIT’s base in Essex, UK, where a team of four operators work shifts for round-the-clock operation. A global team of surveyors and scientists based in Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Mauritius, New Zealand, Poland and the USA are collaboratively monitoring and reviewing the data collected.

The UK’s Maritime Minister, Robert Courts, said: “I’m delighted that maritime technologies produced here in the UK are being used to understand the effects of the tragic Tonga volcanic eruption, all whilst being controlled remotely 16,000 kilometres away in the UK. This research will help protect the 680 million people living in coastal areas by providing a better prediction of similar natural disasters in the future and ensure that we are prepared if this does happen again.”

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