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Robot vs. Volcano: “Sometimes It’s Just Fun to Blow Stuff Up” (Exclusive) | National Geographic
   National Geographic
  Published: 2 months ago


“Sharkcano.” It’s not the title of some campy summer blockbuster, but rather a real-world phenomenon that went viral in 2015, when scientists on a National Geographic expedition found sharks living inside one of the most active underwater volcanoes on Earth. Not surprisingly, the team was eager to go back and learn more, but how do you explore an environment that could easily kill you? You send in robots, of course.

“Our goal is to send instrumentation there to get meaningful data, but sometimes it’s really fun to just blow stuff up,” says National Geographic explorer and ocean engineer Brennan Phillips.

Brennan reunited with his 2015 expedition mates—Alistair Grinham of University of Queensland and Matthew Dunbabin of Queensland University of Technology and Director of GFB Robotics—to once again venture about 20 miles off the coast of the Solomon Islands to the Pacific Ocean’s violent Kavachi volcano.
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We talked to Brennan and Matthew about their return to “Sharkcano.”

Q: Why send robots into one of the most active submarine volcanoes on Earth?

Brenna Phillips: Cause it's cool. But also, as a scientist, it's about getting that last data point, right before the eruption—pH, carbon dioxide, temperature fluctuations, acidity.

Matthew Dunbabin: After looking at a friend’s amazing video of Kavachi’s past eruptions, hearing about the remoteness of the site, and how challenging the conditions are, we were determined to try to get there. This all addresses an interesting problem with monitoring in extreme environments, in that no matter how well-built your systems are or how much they cost, it is very unlikely they will survive an explosion. So, to start increasing our knowledge of these environments you have to develop low-cost monitoring tools that are capable of undertaking meaningful measurements but are not so costly you can’t afford to lose them.

Q: How did you design the robots?

MD: Kavachi is in a remote part of the Solomon Islands with very limited travel options. So you have to design robots that fit into carry-on luggage on a Twin Otter plane. Also, these robots are considered disposable. Therefore, we are making them as low cost as possible—hundreds of dollars.

BP: In this case we used some used PVC sewer pipe that was found in the village. You just put some electronics onto that and wham-o, you have an autonomous boat.

MD: I like to call it bush robotics.

Q: What did you learn from sending the robots into Kavachi?

MD: In the vicinity of the vent we found a huge drop in the surface pH levels, water temperatures ten degrees higher than normal, and we learned Kavachi is a strong greenhouse gas emitter.

Q: How did it feel to discover sharks inside a volcano?

BP: Well, to put my scientist hat on there are a number of reasons why there shouldn't be anything living in there except maybe bacteria. Number one it's very hot and acidic, and we measured that. Number two, it's very turbid, so the water is very cloudy. None of these things are good for fish. Whether they're good for sharks, that's up for debate. Yet we saw sharks that in between eruptions are darting in and out between the clouds of the plume. So that's a lingering question mark.

This interview has been edited for length and content.

Watch "Sharks Discovered Inside Underwater Volcano"

Learn more at and see more exciting moments of explorers in the field in our digital series, Expedition Raw.

PRODUCER / EDITOR : Nora Rappaport

Robot vs. Volcano: “Sometimes It’s Just Fun to Blow Stuff Up” (Exclusive) | National Geographic

National Geographic
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Comments Directly on YouTube

2 months ago

2 months ago
Kim "Boom Boom" Jung-un should a thing from this volcano

2 months ago
So glad I'm subscribed to your channel.

2 months ago
Yes science and discovery is all that matters. Humans can go and die or survive by adapting to eating shit. Assholes!

2 months ago
The robot will get revenge.

2 months ago

2 months ago
c'est la naissance d'une île

2 months ago
Hilarious! Very cool. Thanks for sharing

2 months ago
U just touched lava not relay but lava....*mind blownnn......

2 months ago
Attach laser beams to those sharks and you got one bad ass show for those robots...

2 months ago
i wonder what would happen if their boat get blown up by the volcano

2 months ago
isis claims that explosion

2 months ago
so what you are saying is that morgan is a god. He knew when the volcano would erupt. We have the one and only videoed god on record and he is in a boat predicting volcano eruptions. I am sure that the vatican, the SBC, Bob Jones Uni. , almost anyone in Texas and most christians would love to employ morgan. Or maybe, we could sit him over a gas leak on some mountain and have him predict trump's next move.

2 months ago
Lava sharks when? Cmon evolution, step up ur game.

2 months ago
how much does that robot cost???? a fucking ton of money???

2 months ago
Man an underwater shot of it erupting like those shark shots would have been MINT.

2 months ago
Pfft please my erection is bigger

2 months ago
No wonder robots will rebel some day

2 months ago
yeah that caption is so ISIS esque. keep it up

2 months ago
1:35 Science vs Mysticism: How does one ever "know"?

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