Saturday, July 22, 2017

Right now: Six tropical storm systems spinning in the Pacific at once.



This is just remarkable: six rotating tropical systems in the North Pacific at once.

The accompanying image is from https://earth.nullschool.net, on July 22, 2017, with titles added.

From left, Tropical Storms Noru and Kulap in the Western Pacific, and then, east of Hawai`i, Tropical Storm Fernanda, Tropical Storm Greg, Tropical Depression 10-E and Tropical Depression 9-E.

We won't add comment, other than to say that these are interesting times. Several of these systems have been, or are likely to be, hurricanes.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Landscape-scale conservation can work: Maui's Auwahi is the proof

Auwahi at `Ulupalakua Ranch. Image courtesy Art Medeiros.
When Art Medeiros fenced some Maui pasture that had a smattering of native dryland forest plants on it, most folks figured he was engaged in a pipe dream.

He hoped that by excluding deer and cattle, and with a little loving care and some outplanting, something approaching a healthy native dryland forest could result.

Medeiros was right. The image above is the proof. The three dark green patches are areas fenced to keep grazing animals out and then planted with dryland natives. The 10-acre center square was fenced and planted 20 years ago, the bottom 23 acres 12 years ago, and the 23-acre shape at the right 8 years ago.

Medeiros worked with the landowners, `Ulupalakua Ranch’s Erdman family, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to form the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project. You can learn more about it at this website

What they found is that landscape-scale conservation efforts work.

It is a remarkable example, but certainly not the only example in Hawaii.

● When the Territory of Hawai`i removed feral cattle from the Koke`e grasslands on Kaua`i, those rolling acres of pasture were able to convert back to forest that is now Koke`e State Park.

● When George Munro on Lana`i fenced hundreds of acres at Kanepu`u a century ago to keep out deer and mouflon sheep, he protected a native forest that survives today. 

● When Lida and David Burney took the analysis of ancient pollen samples at Makawehi on Kaua`i  and planted those plants into a nearby former cane field, they restored something long gone from that landscape. 

Medeiros a few decades ago saw a few botanical gems in a severely degraded landscape. When he proposed trying to restore it, he got a lot of pushback. It was a dead forest standing, he was told; Degraded landscapes were inevitably going to further decline.

He didn’t give up.

“The question was whether we could rebuild this system, or was this (an example of) the end of all natural systems?”

At Auwahi, there were priceless old endemic trees, but they were not reproducing and had not reproduced for decades. The native species covered only 3 percent of the landscape.

Why care? Native dryland forest is some of the rarest treasure in the Hawaiian realm. It has been displaced by development, agriculture, pasture and constant pressure from non-native predators on the natural landscape, like cattle, deer, goats, sheep, pigs and rats.

Medeiros and his team fenced out the cattle and deer at Auwahi, starting with the 10-acre square they now call A-1. With the help of teams of community volunteers, teachers, canoe clubs and many others, they began planting out native species—more than 125,000 seedlings to date.
The result: Native species cover in some areas is now 82 percent.

“Near two-thirds of native tree species at Auwahi are now producing seedlings naturally, a sign of a healthy functioning ecosystem, including some species that had not done so in centuries,” Medeiros said.

And on a dry slope of Haleakala, where much of the landscape is brown and yellow, here it is deep green. Not only an indication that the plants are back, but that the landscape is functioning as a watershed.

Medeiros gives special credit to the landowners, Pardee and Sumner Erdman and their family, for their dedication to conservation, and their willingness to convert pasture to native forest—without compensation.

“`Ulupalakua Ranch has...served largely as a silent and enthusiastic partner. In all my years in conservation, I have never seen another for-profit group act in this way,” he said.

Donors to the project over the years included the Frost Family Foundation, Maui County Department of Water Supply, Hawai`i Community Foundation, Hawai`i Tourism Authority, Maui County Office of Economic Development and the Edward J Anderson Foundation.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Backpacks and store-bought kits aren't enough: Your family needs a personalized emergency kit

We’re in the start of the 2017 hurricane season, but it’s short-sighted to focus too tightly on rotating storms. Wildfires, tsunami, enemy action, labor strikes and lots more can disrupt our community resupply systems.

The state’s emergency management officials are now recommending Hawai`i families have enough supplies on hand to care for themselves for two weeks.

There's a reason for that. If supply chains are down, neither your local supermarket nor the military, much less other government agencies, will have the stuff you need. And none of them will have some of the specific needs of your own family.

In a serious disaster like a big tsunami or strong hurricane, it will take days or weeks to get supply chains up and operating, to get roads open, airports and harbors working, communications functioning, power and water systems operational. 

A resilient community is one that can meet its own needs whole all that happens.

Whether you have a specific emergency kit in a box or bag, or if you just make sure you have enough stuff at home to meet your family needs—it makes a lot of sense to go through the planning.

Available aircraft can not supply the food, medicine and other needs of a 1.4 million population. Ocean shipping needs to be restored, and in bad situations, that could take a few weeks. Our state only has a few days of goods on hand at any given time. And anyone who has gone in after a disaster warning knows that batteries, toilet paper, bottled water and other items disappear fast.

So, what’s in a 14-day emergency kit? Think about what you’d need if you were going camping for a couple of weeks. You need to eat and drink, take medication, have light and so on.

An overview of emergency needs is at the state emergency management site. You can also look in the front pages of most phone books for disaster kit contents. 

You can buy kits online and at stores, but they won’t have everything a proper kit needs—and certainly won’t have your personalized medical, dietary and informational needs. Don’t just buy a kit, store it and think you’re done.

WATER: You need a lot of water. At a gallon per person per day, a three-member family needs 42 gallons. That’s nine five-gallon buckets. A bathtub can hold twice that much, and you can purchase water bladders that can keep that water safe.

DRINKS: Even if you can’t heat water, you can make coffee and tea—it just takes longer without heat. (Think about sun tea and cold-brewed coffee.) Your kit needs coffee, tea bags, sugar and creamer if you use them. (The electric grinder won’t be working but you can crush coffee beans in other ways, or store ground coffee.)

FOOD: Again, a lot of it. You ought to prepare for at least one full meal per day, plus light fare. Keep in mind that rice and pasta needs to be cooked and cooking could be a problem. This Homeland Security site has these recommendations. 

Think about canned meats, fruits, vegetables, juices, freeze dried foods and instant meals. Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars and trail mix. Hard candies, cookies, candy bars. Trail mix and pre-made snack foods. And comfort foods, such as hard candy, sweetened cereals, candy bars and cookies.

SPECIAL FOODS: Consider the needs of infants, elderly persons and those on special diets. And pet food sufficient to keep the family pusses and pooches satisfied.

MANUAL CAN OPENER: No point in having all those cans if you can’t open them, and you don’t want to create a medical risk by stabbing them with a knife.

MEDICAL: You need not only a two-week supply of the family’s medications, but a paper copy of the prescriptions. Your own pharmacy might not be open after an emergency, and others won’t have your data.

You’ll also want a first-aid kit. And water purification system, whether chlorine liquid or iodine pills. Look up and make a paper note of how to use them (you might not be able to Google it after the disaster).

PAPER GOODS: Lots of toilet paper and paper towels, but also copies of your family’s important papers: identification, medical issues, contact information for family members who are aware, and so forth. Note pads and pencils or pens. Also sanitary wipes and sanitary napkins.

BATTERY OPERATED RADIO: For keeping up on disaster response. 

And FLASHLIGHTS. With extra batteries suitable for all the electronics. 

If power lines are down but CELL TOWERS are still working, you can charge your phone from the car—but be aware that gas stations need electricity for pumps, and you may not be able to refuel.

MISCELLANEOUS: You’ll want matches and small lighters. Candles. Fuel if you have a use for it—whether liquid stove fuel or briquets for a hibachi.  Soap. Spare glasses. Needle and thread. A deck of cards. Books you always meant to read. Duct tape. And heavy-duty PLASTIC BAGS for storing waste.

A multi-function tool is good for an emergency, but isn’t as good as the actual tool. Not as good as real pliers, a real pocket knife, a real screwdriver, and so forth. That said, I have several, because they’re what you need in a pinch.

The fully-loaded emergency kit is a whole lot of stuff, but aside from the water, campers regularly go off for a couple of weeks with the food and gear they need in a single backback, so it needn’t require a massive storage area..

And speaking of backpacks, it’s also a good idea to have a couple of large-capacity backpacks—for if you need to haul goods from a supply point if your car’s out of gas or the roads are closed.


Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on what foods might be safe to eat, and how to keep others safe in an emergency. 

Here’s some information from the EPA on how to purify water with chlorine bleach. 

It only takes two drops to a quart of water and six or eight drops to a gallon. And it’s a good idea to wash out your containers with a chlorinated water solution before storing your water.

If your water isn’t clear, then let it settle, and filter it through paper or fabric filters until it is clear before chlorinating.


Beyond the emergency kit, there's the emergency network. Do you know who you can depend on in an emergency. Have you made contact with those folks? Do you or a family member have special needs. Here's some information on that

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017


Thursday, June 15, 2017

The bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain--we know it happened, but why?

You might wonder whether there’s any value in learning about things that happened millions of years ago.

And maybe there isn’t any value…or maybe there is, at least in the sense of, if it happened then, maybe it can happen now.

THE BEND IN THE CHAIN

(Image: The line of volcanoes forming the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain. note the 60-degree bend halfway--which has been dated at 47 milliion years ago. Credit: NOAA.)

So there’s the question of the distinct but odd bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor chain—that series of volcanic mountains that runs from Lo`ihi and Hawai`i to the southeast, to Detroit Seamount to the northwest—way up by Kamchatka.

The rocks of the chain have been dated, and the oldest ones--up near Russia--are 80 million years old. At the bend, 47 million. Kaua`i is at about 5 million. And the Big Island is downright new.

The Emperor half of the chain is a series of volcanoes whose peaks are underwater. The Hawaiian half has peaks mainly above the surface—from Kure Atoll, through Midway, Pearl and Hermes, Lisianski, Laysan, Maro, Gardner, French Frigate, Mokumanamana, Nihoa--and then Kaua`i, Ni`ihau and the rest.

If you follow the line of volcanoes from the Hawai`i end to just beyond Kure they take a sharp 60-degree bend to the right.

What’s that about?

A new paper suggests that the bend is pretty clearly the result of two things, but that one of them—tectonic plate drift—is the main one.:

One, the whole floor of the Pacific Ocean, which had been drifting northward, suddenly changed direction 47 million years ago and began drifting westward.

Two, the volcanic hot spot—which had been piercing the ocean floor to create volcanoes—was drifting itself, and was drifting generally southward.

The paper in Nature, written by a team led by Trond Torsvik, of the University of Oslo, says it’s pretty clear what dynamics are at work.

“While southward hotspot drift has resulted in more northerly positions of the Emperor Seamounts as they are observed today, formation of the HEB (Hawaiian-Emperor Bend) cannot be explained without invoking a prominent change in the direction of Pacific plate motion around 47” million years ago, the paper says.

It’s pretty clear you need both factors to explain the bend, Torsvik’s team said.

“After more than two decades debating hotspot drift versus Pacific plate motion change to explain the HEB, we must realize that neither of these two end-member options is able to accurately reproduce the geometry and age progression of the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain.”

THE MORE INTERESTING ISSUE

The paper gets a little testy about the continuing debate, and says there’s a better place to focus our attention.

“We can stop going in circles and move forward, focusing new research on understanding the processes that resulted in the change in the direction of the Pacific plate motion at around 47 Ma, which we conclude is a prerequisite for explaining the formation of the HEB,” the paper says.

At this point, we know what happened. What we still don’t know is why.

Why did the largest geological feature on the planet—the Pacific Ocean floor—suddenly change directions. What exactly happened 47 million years ago that made the Pacific Plate turn its steering wheel right?

There was lots of stuff going on back then.

Australia was in the process of ripping itself away from the Mainland, a process that started about 45 million years ago.

The massive meteor impact that formed the Chicxulub Crater was 18 million years earlier.

On the land, there were tiny early mammals that seem lemur-like. A fossil find from the period of the HEB was named Darwinius masillae--a cute little mammal with a tail.

On both land and sea there were whales that could both swim and walk on land.

In 2012, a team of researchers collected deep sediment samples from the Pacific Ocean that were able to track the climate back 53 million years.

It says that the planet was coming off a period of extreme warming at the beginning of the sample, and cooled right through the 47 million-years-ago period when the Pacific Plate changed directions.
Interesting, but what could that have done to planetary geology?

Or what else was happening on our planet?

Which takes us back to the big question: Why did the Pacific Plate take its right turn?

And how does that information help us live our lives today?

BACK TO THE LITTLE 47 MILLION YEAR-OLD MAMMAL

This is a diversion, but I was fascinated by that little warm-blooded critter that populated our world at the time of the Hawaiian-Emperor Bend. It was named Darwinius masillae. 

The creature had fingers and nails, not claws. It had opposable big toes, like humans and monkeys. It was about two feet long, like a lemur or a big squirrel. It lived near what is now Germany. 

Seen here is an image of the fossil, from the American Museum of Natural History.



© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

How to tell if an extinct Hawaiian bird was flightless: now there's a tool.

A lot of the early birds of Hawaii were believed flightless due to big bodies and small wings, but until now there hasn’t been a real good way to measure.

(Image:  The fossil bones of Ptaiochen pau otherwise known as a small-billed moa nalo—a big duck that looks more like a goose. Bones like these could be used to determine whether the bird could fly. Credit: Junya Watanabe.)

Today, using a new system developed by Japanese researcher Junya Watanabe of Kyoto University, we can be far more confident that the moa nalo and other big extinct ducks and geese had given up flight in these islands that lacked a lot of the predators of continents.

Helen James, an expert in Hawaiian fossil birds, said Watanabe’s work, published in the journal Auk: Orinthological Advances, said Watanabe’s work is a big step forward.

"Dr. Watanabe has developed a valuable statistical tool for evaluating whether a bird was capable of powered flight or not, based on measurements of the lengths of only four different long bones. His method at present applies to waterfowl, but it could be extended to other bird groups like the rails," said James, Curator of Birds at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Many times, fossil birds must be described from only a few bones, and Watanabe’s method provides a new tool for learning more about them.

"Other researchers will appreciate that he offers a way to assess limb proportions even in fossil species where the bones of individual birds have become disassociated from each other. 

"Disassociation of skeletons in fossil sites has been a persistent barrier to these types of sophisticated statistical analyses, and Dr. Watanabe has taken an important step towards overcoming that problem," James said.

Watanabe studied hundreds of skeletons of relatives of ducks, including both flightless and known not-flighted species. And developed a methodical assessment using such data as the size of leg bones, size of wing bones, body size and an assessment of pectoral muscle development from the keel or breastbone.

In part, Watanabe said, the work was challenging because ducks are so different.

"What is interesting in fossil flightless anatids is their great diversity; they inhabited remote islands and continental margins, some of them were specialized for underwater diving and others for grazing, and some were rather gigantic while others were diminutive."

His paper, "Quantitative discrimination of flightlessness in fossil Anatidae from skeletal proportions" is here

Eurekalert's report on the paper, from which the quotations in this report were taken, is here. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017