Stories tagged Alaskan Volcano Observatory

Jul
28
2008

Okmok in eruption, 7/21/2008: Aerial overflight courtesy of Air Station Kodiak, US Coast Guard, photographer Tina Neal.
Okmok in eruption, 7/21/2008: Aerial overflight courtesy of Air Station Kodiak, US Coast Guard, photographer Tina Neal.Courtesy AVO/USGS
Two volcanoes in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands have been erupting since last week – the first time in over 30 years two volcanoes in the region have had simultaneous eruptions.

Scientists from the Alaskan Volcano Observatory were first aware of the eruption of Mount Okmok, a shield volcano on Umnak Island. The eruption began on July 12 with no advance warning and has continued erupting since. The latest update (July 27) indicates that, “The amplitude and duration of seismic activity has increased over the past 11 hours. Satellite data indicate a possible thermal anomaly that may be due to solar reflection of the plume. The most recent satellite images show the potential Okmok plume at less than 10,000'. Stronger explosive activity could resume at any time with little or no warning.”

Astronaut photo of ash cloud from Mount Cleveland, May 23, 2006: Image of Mount Cleveland from a 2006 eruption.
Astronaut photo of ash cloud from Mount Cleveland, May 23, 2006: Image of Mount Cleveland from a 2006 eruption.Courtesy NASA
While studying the eruption of Mount Okmok scientists at the Alaskan Volcano Observatory then noticed that Mount Cleveland, a stratovolcano on Chuginadak Island was also erupting. Reports from fishing boats indicate that the eruption began on July 21 and the most recent update (July 27) says that, “Thermal anomalies seen in satellite views suggest the presence of lava on the surface near Cleveland's summit. Satellite images also indicate a possible ash cloud traveling SE from the volcano at less than 20,000 feet.” Cleveland is a more active volcano than Okmok having last erupted in 2005.

Both volcanoes are at alert level orange, the second highest alert level. The National Weather Service issues a 24-hour ash fall advisory for Umnak Island and the southwest portion of Unalaska Island.

The Alaskan Volcano Observatory has lots of great resources on these eruptions, including a web cam of Mount Cleveland and they have lots of other webcams of other volcanoes too. They monitor seismic activity in real time for 30 volcanoes in Alaska and analyze satellite images of all the Alaskan volcanoes for evidence of eruption. Another great source of information if you are into learning more about volcanoes is the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program.

Jul
09
2008

The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.