Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 579–587 | Cite as

Rapid, low-cost photogrammetry to monitor volcanic eruptions: an example from Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA

  • Angela K. DiefenbachEmail author
  • Juliet G. Crider
  • Steve P. Schilling
  • Daniel Dzurisin
Research Article


We describe a low-cost application of digital photogrammetry using commercially available photogrammetric software and oblique photographs taken with an off-the-shelf digital camera to create sequential digital elevation models (DEMs) of a lava dome that grew during the 2004–2008 eruption of Mount St. Helens (MSH) volcano. Renewed activity at MSH provided an opportunity to devise and test this method, because it could be validated against other observations of this well-monitored volcano. The datasets consist of oblique aerial photographs (snapshots) taken from a helicopter using a digital single-lens reflex camera. Twelve sets of overlapping digital images of the dome taken during 2004–2007 were used to produce DEMs and to calculate lava dome volumes and extrusion rates. Analyses of the digital images were carried out using photogrammetric software to produce three-dimensional coordinates of points identified in multiple photos. The evolving morphology of the dome was modeled by comparing successive DEMs. Results were validated by comparison to volume measurements derived from traditional vertical photogrammetric surveys by the US Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory. Our technique was significantly less expensive and required less time than traditional vertical photogrammetric techniques; yet, it consistently yielded volume estimates within 5% of the traditional method. This technique provides an inexpensive, rapid assessment tool for tracking lava dome growth or other topographic changes at restless volcanoes.


Oblique photogrammetry Dome growth Eruption monitoring Volume calculations Mount St. Helens 



The authors wish to thank the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, the Cascades Volcano Observatory and Western Washington University for jointly supporting this study. We thank S. Linneman and J.Caplan-Auerbach for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and R. Herd for insightful discussions. The manuscript was improved by reviews from P. Baldi, A. Stinton, J. Pallister, and J. Major. Diefenbach was supported in this work by a Jack Kleinman Grant from the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, a National Science Foundation Graduate K-12 Fellowship through WWU, a Mazamas Graduate Student Research Grant, and WWU Geology Department and Graduate Studies grants.

Supplementary material

445_2011_548_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
MOESM 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela K. Diefenbach
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Juliet G. Crider
    • 1
    • 3
  • Steve P. Schilling
    • 2
  • Daniel Dzurisin
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeologyWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  2. 2.Cascades Volcano ObservatoryU.S. Geological SurveyVancouverUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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