Watch the US Geological Survey's Drone Footage of Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Crater

This aerial footage is not only visually stunning, it's providing the USGS with invaluable information about the volcano's ever-changing phases.

The United States Geological Survey launched an unmanned aerial vehicle over Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano Sunday, with the drone collecting visual information of the Halema’uma’u crater on the volcano’s summit. As it stands, the crater walls are continuing to lean inward and downward, with the volcano itself still spewing dangerous gas residue through its cracks.

The footage itself is simultaneously stunning to absorb, and surreal to accept, as something terrestrial. At times, the footage captured by a yet unspecified drone seems like something otherworldly, as if the USGS managed to fly this UAV to Mars and beam back high-definition footage for the rest of us to experience. As you can see in the video below, the Halema‘uma‘u crater is still smoldering heavily and blowing out an amalgamation of ash and gas.

According to the USGS, the deepest part of the crater reaches 1,300 feet below the caldera floor. Capturing this high-def bird’s-eye view was only possible in collaborating with the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park service, and is essentially providing the USGS with information of what exactly is occurring at the continuously evolving site. This data, revealing how the collapsed area is changing and how deep the tephra fall is, allows scientists to assess how hazardous Kilauea’s summit is at any given time. 

As far as drone footage goes, this is the kind of scientifically necessary and visually interesting material that prime drone videos are made of. While this may seem like vicarious entertainment for those of us lucky enough to be out of harm’s way here, the footage itself was captured in order to safely and efficiently keep things under as much control as humanly possible. 

We’ve reported on the intersection between drones and volcanoes before, with Black Swift and NASA recently partnering to study Costa Rica’s volcanic gases, and a Hawaiian man’s life being saved from lava thanks to a drone. Hopefully, entities like the USGS continue to receive the funding and local support they need to most efficiently and securely collect data that can continue to save lives. In the meantime, we can absorb this stunning footage, learn something, and be proud that drones are being put to good use.