Scientists Use IoT Network to Monitor Hawaii's Pollution Levels in Wake of Volcanic Eruption


MIT scientists developed a network to measure hazardous fumes from volcanic eruption and it will remotely transmit information to the network without human assistance / Photo by


A team of scientists has developed a network to measure hazardous fumes in real-time. They plan to use the Internet of Things to keep the citizens of Hawaii updated with regard to the level of pollutants in the island’s atmosphere that can be hazardous to people’s health. And for the island, there are no worse sources of pollutants than its many active volcanoes.

When they erupt, volcanoes release hazardous chemicals, such as particulate matter and sulfur, which can harm humans, animals, and other living things. Proper measurement of these harmful substances is vital to determine dangerous zones around an active volcano.

The creation of the Hawai’i Island Vog network by MIT scientists and the Kohala Center couldn’t have come at a better time as Hawaii’s most active volcano, Kilauea, erupted just last May, releasing high levels of sulfur dioxide gas.

The network is designed to obtain real-time data needed for managing high-risk areas using low-powered sensors that can remotely transmit information to the network without needing the assistance of humans. Compared to air quality monitors, these sensors can be distributed over a larger portion. And unlike the stations set up by the Environmental Protection Agency, the new network is cost-effective, with minimal recurring costs.

“We’re one of the main groups really using IoT sensors for science and improving them from the engineering side to make them usable for other scientific pursuits,” said David Hagan, a scientist from MIT, as quoted by Hackernoon.

To transmit data, the sensors utilize a cellular hardware called Electron by Particle. This component connects the sensors to the internet via the cellular network and sends relevant data, without requiring human intervention.

The scientists have already launched the network’s website so visitors can already have an idea of the general air quality in the region. Aside from reading the levels of base components, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, the sensors can also measure the size of particle pollution (PM). It can read PM2.5 for particles size of 2.5 micrometers or smaller and PM10 for larger particles, usually 10 or at least 10 micrometers. This information is important in determining if the pollutants in the air can be easily inhaled or ingested.

According to the International Volcanic Hazards National Network, sulfur dioxide can irritate the eyes, throat, and the respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure to high levels of SO2 can lead to paralysis or death. Meanwhile, PM can accumulate in the deep areas of the lungs and trigger respiratory problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.