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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Waikiki awash, Svalbard melting--Oh, is climate change still a hoax?

King tides are threatening to wash into Waikiki hotel lobbies this week—a combination of unusual sea heights around Hawaii corresponding with super spring tides, plus climate change.

And in the Arctic, just to the left of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, the global seed bank at Svalbard is melting,

So, how’s it working for you, that “climate change is a hoax” business?

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser picked up the king tide story here

For planning purposes, the king tides are scheduled for May 24-28, June 22-26, and July 20-25, with very high tides a day or two before and after those peaks.

Meanwhile, in the distant north, Svalbard is a global seed bank established high in the Arctic at 78 degrees north latitude, where it stays frozen all the time. Or did. 

There are tens of millions of crop seeds stored there, to protect the planet in case of catastrophe. But now, instead of saving the planet, Svalbard itself is at risk.

Umthinkably, Svalbard is melting. The seeds are still safe—they’re deep enough that it’s still frozen where they are, but the permafrost near the surface is melting, and officials are now planning to waterproof that part of the great vault.

Here’s what the blog Live Science had to say about it. 

Climate change denial remains well entrenched in Washington, including among the deniers the President and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. As for Congress, the blog ThinkProgress put it this way:

“Of the 180 climate science deniers in the 115th Congress, 142 are in the House and 38 are in the Senate. That’s more than 59 percent of the Republican House caucus and 73 percent of Republicans in the Senate that deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening, human activity is the main cause, and it is a serious threat. No Democrats publicly deny the science behind climate change.”

It’s now understood to be far too late to stop the warming, the acidification of our oceans, the sea level rise and all the rest for our lifetimes. So, we’re guaranteeing our grandkids a wild ride.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Big Lie: You're safe from rat lungworm on O`ahu and Kaua`i. You're not. People getting sick everywhere.

You might read media reports and believe rat lungworm disease or angiostrongyliasis is restricted to one, two or no more than three Hawaiian islands—and that you’re safe for now eating fresh veggies on other islands.

That’s wrong—potentially dead wrong.

This is a pretty rare, but a very spooky disease, and if you read or listen to most media reports, you'd feel safe in thinking the danger is at the eastern end of the Hawaiian chain. That's false.

Media reports notwithstanding, rat lungworm disease has impacted humans on all six of the major islands, and the disease vector has been found on five of the Hawaiian islands.

The painful and sometimes fatal disease, for which there is no treatment, has been identified on Hawai`i and Maui, but also on O`ahu, Kaua`i and Molokai—thus far no confirmed reports have come from Lana`i and Ni`ihau.

The very first reported Hawai`i case of rat lungworm disease, caused by the organism known to science as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, was in 1960, not on Maui or the Big Island, but in a man in Honolulu on O`ahu.
  
University of Hawai`i student Jaynee Kim in 2013 conducted a statewide study for a master’s thesis and found the disease in slugs and snails across Hawai`i. 

“Numerous gastropod species (16 of 37 screened) tested positive for A. cantonensis, with a large range of parasite load among and within species. The parasite occurs on five of the six largest islands (not Lanai),” Kim wrote.

And people have gotten sick all across the state: “There have been cases on all six of the largest Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii), with a noticeable increase in the number of cases since around 2004,” Kim wrote.

How is it that someone on Lanai got sick even though the nematode has not been found there? Said Kim “It is possible that produce regularly shipped from Maui was contaminated and the victim was infected through consumption of such produce, or that the victim became infected while on another island.”

Rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasitic nematode whose life cycle goes through rats and slugs, and can be caught by humans who eat the slugs or nematode larvae in slime trails on fruits and vegetables. The worms migrate to the human brain, where they mature, die and can cause a massive reaction, described by medicine as eosinophilic meningitis.

Live snails can carry large numbers of rat lungworms, but even the snail slime trails can carry small amounts. Here is a UH-Hilo report on the infectiousness of snail slime. 

“The larvae die when they reach the central nervous system, primarily in the brain, which can lead to eosinophilic meningitis. In humans, the resulting symptoms include nausea and headache, and in more severe cases, neurologic dysfunction, coma, and death,” wrote the authors of this paper

The slugs can be tiny, and can be easy to miss on improperly washed food. Giant African snails, which are common pests in yards and gardens throughout the Islands, can also be carriers. So can lots of other garden slugs and snails. The species most commonly linked to the disease is the semislug, Parmarion martensi.

The state Department of Health today (Thursday May 11, 2017) reported a new case on Hawai`i Island, bringing to 15 the number of recent cases. But while the most recent cases of people getting sick have all been on Maui and Hawai`i Island, there have been earlier cases of human illness from each of the other islands as well, starting with the 1960 O`ahu case. Only Ni`ihau has been spared.

Rat lungworm cases have been an annual occurrence in the Islands for more than the last decade. (The Department of Health reported 2 cases in 2007, 8 in 2008, 6 in 2009, 9 in 2010, 7 in 2011 and so on, according to this report.) 

This doesn't mean you should stop eating fresh produce, but just like your mom taught you, wherever your fresh fruits and vegetables are from, they need to be washed carefully to remove contaminants.

Many people who are infected with rat lungworm can be symptom-free, but other infections can lead to weeks to months of severe pain, possible paralysis and even death.

This 2014 paper confirms that the disease is found in many different kinds of snails and slugs throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

“We have now shown that nearly a third of the non-native snail species established in the Hawaiian Islands are carriers … along with two native species (Philonesia sp., Tornatellides sp.),” the paper says.

All three of the rat species known to Hawai`i are carriers: the Norwegian, black and Polynesian rats.

Here is the Hawai`i State Department of Health fact sheet on the disease. 



© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hawaii's reefs are eroding, and eroding faster than elsewhere

The threat to Hawai`i’s reefs and coastlines from a changing climate keep growing.

The latest data point is actual evidence that reefs are eroding off Hawaiian shores, and eroding faster than other reefs studied. 

That’s on top of coral bleaching from superwarm water, a huricane season that now starts in May instead of mid-summer, and retreating shorelines due to rising sea levels.

A team of researchers went to five coastal locations in Hawai`i, Florida and the Caribbean, and found that the seafloor was eroding in all five locations. The Hawaiian location was off Maui.

They found the reefs eroding so severely that the water depth increased—potentially meaning that coastal protection that reefs provide was at risk.

“Regional-scale mean elevation and volume losses were observed at all five study sites and in 77% of the 60 individual habitats that we examined across all study sites,” the authors said. The researchers included Kimberly K. Yates, David G. Zawada and Nathan A. Smiley from the U.S. Geological Survey and and Ginger Tiling-Range from Cherokee Nation Technologies.

As reefs eroded, the sea floor got effectively lower—sometimes by as much as 2 to 3 feet in Hawai`i.over a few decades. The reefs off Maui were losing more than 20 millimeters per year, compared to two to five millimeters per year in Florida and the Caribbean. For Maui, that's nearly an inch a year.

“Current water depths have increased to levels not predicted until near the year 2100, placing these ecosystems and nearby communities at elevated and accelerating risk to coastal hazards,” they wrote.

“These greater losses may be caused by higher sediment export rates due to a combination of higher wave energy, physical erosion, and a narrow shallow shelf surrounding the island allowing sediment to be more easily transported offshore into deep water, as has been observed in other high-energy reef environments,” the paper says.

The team studied bottoms of many kinds from 7 to 50 feet in depth, including coral and hard bottom, sandy bottom, patch reefs, rubble and mud, coral pavement and more.

The only places off Maui that showed increases were areas with mud and rubble bottoms—perhaps due to sediment runoff from the island. Or, as the scientists phrased it: “Elevation and volume gains occurred in mud and rubble habitats and may be associated with terrigenous sediment transport from the island.”

Exactly why is this seafloor erosion happening? I’ll use the paper’s language, and then try to translate it.

“Our results include elevation and volume changes caused by chronic erosion and accretion processes that occur slowly over time frames of months to decades such as changes in carbonate production rates, bioerosion, chemical erosion from carbonate dissolution, degradation of large framework building coral colonies, and physical movement of reef sediments due to persistent oceanographic conditions such as waves and currents.”

Essentially, the authors say there are lots of factors at play. Among them are reductions in coral and coralline algae growth, damage by biological factors like coral-eating creatures, ocean acidification that dissolves corals and shells, and other things like changing weather and current patterns.

But while those are all possibilities, the authors say the focus of their paper was actually measuring the changes in ocean depth, and not so much figuring out why it happens: “Detailed analysis of the processes causing elevation change in these systems is beyond the scope of this paper and should be undertaken in future studies.”

But they make a key observation about Hawaiian reefs. On Maui, material is being transported off the reefs, and the reefs right now are not able to replace it. That’s bad news for the future.

“Our results indicate net export of sediments from the coastal seafloor of Maui and support… previous observations that reef and terrigenous sediment is transported offshore and no new sediment from the reef is contributed to coastal beaches.”

Hawai`i beaches on balance are eroding, and this study seems to indicate that the factors causing that erosion are continuing.

This is the news release from the European Geosciences Union that accompanied the publication of the study.

Here is a Miami Herald piece on the study. 

And here’s a Washington Post piece.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hawai`i tides running 8+inches higher than predicted--and this will go on for months.

Very strange stuff is going on at Hawai`i’s coastlines—sea levels have jumped in the past few months as much as they have in the past century.

Oceanographers are trying to figure out just what’s going on.

(Image: The pink to reddish areas in this graphic represent higher than normal sea levels. The blues are lower water. Credit: University of Hawai`i Sea Level Center.)

But what it means for now is that we are seeing eight to 10 inches higher high tides than we did a year ago.

If you’ve been at the docks, or at low-lying coastlines, you’ve seen it. This week will see some of the highest high tides.

University of Hawai`i coastal geologist Chip Fletcher said the superhigh water has been around for some time, and people seeing the unusual water levels and noting that it's strange are not mistaken.

“No it’s not a mistake - there has been a slug of high sea level for a year or more that has lingered around the islands,” Fletcher said.

Here is a graph that shows (red line) the actual sea levels, compared (blue line) to the normal predictions of sea levels. The waviness reflects tides. 

“Definitely an unusual event. We haven’t seen something like this during the past 20 years or so,” said Mark Merrifield, coastal geologist with the University of Hawai`i School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

The good news is that this sudden increase may be temporary. Merrifield said some forecasts suggests the superhigh tides will last at least through the summer.

“Elevated sea levels around Hawaii are likely to continue through the forecast period, potentially enhancing extreme high tides during May, June, and July,” says this website from the University’s Sea Level Center. 

That doesn’t mean the high tides end in July—just that July is as far in the future as the forecast goes.

This is not a global phenomenon. The Pacific Ocean appears to be bumpy. The sea levels are higher in some areas (as around the Hawaiian Islands) and lower in other areas (In coming months, “sea levels are likely to be near or below-normal in the tropical northwestern Pacific {Yap, Guam, Chuuk, and Pohnpei} and above-normal in the equatorial central Pacific {Kiritimati}.”)

Merrifield said researchers are working to try to understand what’s going on.

Meanwhile, the background global sea levels continue to rise, and at an increasing pace.

This article from the American Geophysical Union says sea levels are now rising 25 percent faster than they were a quarter-century ago.

The article cites this study published in Geophysical Research Letters

The increase appears, the report said, to be “mostly due to Greenland mass loss increase and also to slight increase of all other components of the budget.”

The superhigh water of the past few months, on top of the increasing rate of sea level rise, puts the Islands at significantly increased risk from events that drive water ashore, like tsunami and major storms.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

Zika now spread by at least two Hawai`i mosquito species

Aedes aegypti biting a human.
(Modified USDA image.)
 Mosquitoes are not native to Hawaii, but we’ve got them, and new evidence is that they’re growing increasingly dangerous.

The Zika virus can be spread by at least two Hawai`i mosquitoes, including one of the most common species in the Islands.

We’ve got eight mosquito species now—there’s a list at the bottom of this post. Some diseases are spread by only one species—but that’s changing.

For example, it used to be believed Aedes aegypti, which has limited distribution in Hawai`i. But now Florida researchers working in Brazil found it has spread to the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, which is everywhere in the Islands.
that the Zika virus could only be spread by the Yellow fever mosquito,

Dozens of American babies have been born with severe birth defects associated with Zika, and the number of cases is growing. 

The most common defect is a deformed brain. Hawai`i has had 16 reported cases of Zika, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Here’s the Science Daily report on Zika’s new host. 

“"These results are important because they are the first to show that Aedes albopictus can be infected with Zika virus RNA," said Chelsea Smartt, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, Florida. "Also, this study found Zika virus RNA in male mosquitoes, which we can infer also means the Zika virus RNA came from the mother. We need to determine if live Zika virus can also be transmitted in Aedes albopictus."

And there is evidence that a number of other mosquitoes may also be capable of transmitting Zika, says the paper, which can be read here

Not to make too much of this, but two key weapons in attacking mosquito-borne illness are targeted insecticides and genetic modifications to impact mosquito populations. And in Hawai`i, both insecticides and genetic modification are being targeted by activists for entire bans or limitations on use of these products and technologies. Thus far, the Legislature and the courts have held off these movements.

Hawai’i’s four mosquito species that bite in the daytime are Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito), Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever mosquito), Aedes japonicus (Asian bush mosquito), and Wyeomyia mitchelli (Bromeliad mosquito).

The two that bit at night are Culex quinquefasciatus (Southern house mosquito) and Aedes vexans (Inland floodwater mosquito).

There are a couple of other mosquitoes that don’t bite humans, so we won’t worry about them for this article.
More about these critters in the Islands at this Departmentof Health site

© 2017 Jan TenBruggencate


Sunday, April 16, 2017

A new look at Polynesian voyaging. After initial contact, maybe it was all about goods and services.

Polynesians maintained distant voyaging links through much of the history of their Pacific occupation.

It was a kind of connectivity that helped new island occupations succeed, and kept voyaging communities vibrant. And why? Some of it may have been just business--meeting the need for trade.

This ocean connection “was a deliberate enabling strategy essential for colonising the remote Pacific…this process played out on a canvas of different archipelagos with contrasting resources, both small and large islands, and with varying levels of ecological diversity and remoteness,” wrote Marshall Weisler and Richard Walter, in a new book, The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization.

The evidence of the long-term connection between distant islands comes in many forms.

One example, of course, is a famous adze, sourced from a quarry on the Hawaiian island of Kaho`olawe, and found by archaeologists in the Tuamotu islands far to the south. It proved that the Polynesian voyaging that led to the discovery and population of the Hawaiian Islands was not a one-time accidental event, but that there were return voyages.

How important was that?

“One Tuamotuan adze was identified as originating from the Hawaiian islands, a distance of  ͠  4000 km—making it the longest known, continuous maritime trip in world prehistory,” they wrote.

In the Cook Islands, there was evidence of active trade. Basalt for adze blades has been found on coral islands without hard rock of their own. And pearl shell for fishhooks and scrapers has been found on volcanic islands where the pearl oysters didn’t grow. The assumption is that the fine-grained basalt and black-lipped pearl shell were traded by voyagers.

And there is also a strong oral tradition of voyaging that backs up the archaeology. In the Cooks, there are stories of the famous navigator-voyagers Tangi`ia, Karika and others. Hawai`i has the stories of Mo`ikeha and his voyaging son Kila.

Weisler and Walter argue that goods traveled back and forth, not only resupplying small island communities, but also bringing goods back to parent communities. The voyagers brought not only rock and shell, but planting material, volcanic glass for fine cutting, and even marriage partners.

Hawai`i even has a tradition of the priest Pa`ao, who felt Hawaiians were lacking adequate leadership, sailing to Tahiti to bring back a chief to rule them. The chief was Pilika`aiea.

For some islands, such voyaging was critical to the survival of the community. The small, isolated Pitcairn group could only have survived with the assistance of “repeated resourcing from the parent populations on Mangareva,” the authors wrote.

Not every island group had much to offer in material goods, but some had other values. The Tuamotu Islands, for example, have few resources, but they sprawl across the ocean, and they’re hard to miss. That being the case, they are a convenient stopping place to establish a voyager’s position, so it would have been valuable to keep their residents part of the “family.”

Hawai`i's voyaging canoe Hokule`a has regularly used the Tuamotus as an intermediate stop, to confirm the accuracy of navigation.

“There was little economic reason to travel to the Tuamotus, but their location made them a navigational screen that captured any movement in the region, and no doubt they benefited from this,” Weisler and Walter wrote.

Limits are one of the hallmarks of island societies. There is a point at which further population increase, or further drawdown of resources, cannot be sustained.

“In Mangareva during late prehistory food scarcities drove people to steal growing crops and rob breadfruit storage pits (the main staple), and there are even instances of fresh meat cannibalism and unearthing graves of newly buried corpses for food,” they wrote.

Some anthropologists argue that population pressure was a promoter of new voyaging, to find new islands and new resources. But perhaps the opposite was sometimes also true. Population pressure could have rendered voyaging difficult or inadvisable. 

“Constructing ‘expensive’ voyaging canoes and resourcing their crews was no longer a priority. Indeed, it was risky to leave agricultural lands unprotected to engage in long-distance voyaging trips,” Weisler and Walter suggest.

So, maybe islands full of people and short of resources caused societies to look inward instead of outward, ending the great Polynesian traditions of voyaging.

That said, the cultural memory of the voyaging days has resulted in a paradigm that still exists today. “Interaction and exchange is …a part of the fabric of Pacific life,” the authors wrote.


© 2017 Jan W. TenBruggencate 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hawaiian pigs aggressive and spreading everywhere.

Everybody’s got a pig story.

Unless you live in a highrise or a yacht harbor, chances are you’ve come across some of the feral pigs that are increasing their range throughout the Islands, even moving into urban areas.

(Image: Feral pig with native ferns. Credit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.)

People in the Hawai`i suburbs are waking to find their lawns chewed up. Gardens are at constant risk. Pastures are torn brown by hogs looking for worms and grubs.

In the forests, pigs create vast mudholes where native understory used to grow—a double threat, since not only are the native species destroyed, but it creates open ground for aggressive invasive alien plants to set root.

But what are these pigs? Is there something special about them?

A team of researchers late last year published a study on the genetic makeup of Hawaiian feral hogs in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team, led by Anna Linderholm of Oxford and Texas A&M, took genetic samples from dozens of feral pigs from across the state.

They found that there’s still a lot of Polynesian pig in the genetic mix, but also evidence of multiple introductions of other porcine species, including the Eurasian boar, which—it is argued—made them more aggressive and invasive in the environment.

“Understanding the degree to which modern feral pigs retain their Polynesian ancestry and whether pigs introduced by Europeans have replaced those originally introduced will lead to more informed debates regarding the management of Hawaiian pigs,” wrote Linderholm and her group.

Pigs got to the Islands with Polynesian voyagers about 1200 A.D., the paper says. And then came Westerners, who also carried pigs on their vessels.

“Western explorers, like the Polynesians before them, traveled with and introduced domesticated plants and animals across the Pacific. In many cases, Westerners came into contact with local cultures that already possessed domesticated varieties of the same taxa that led to gene flow and possibly replacement,” the paper said.

In Tahiti, the local pig population got larger quickly when crossed with European stock—in as little as three years. The crossing has been extensive in Hawai`i as well, they wrote.

“The genetic evidence presented here indicates that the current Hawaiian feral pig population is a mixture of those brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians and pigs of European (and possibly Asian) origin introduced to the islands much later,” they wrote.

All but a couple of the pigs they sampled had some Polynesian pig genes. That couple was pure European. But it is clear that some of the traditional Polynesian genetics is still in most Hawaiian feral pigs: "The predominance of the Pacific clade haplotypes ... suggests that the original Polynesian lineages have not been completely replaced by more recent introductions."

The authors are careful not to suggest that its only breeding that is making pigs more common and widespread. The Hawaiian environment of the pre-European period might not have been as conducive to pig survival. But the arrival of a lot of fleshy fruits (banana poka, strawberry guava and the like), and the appearance of earthworms—which are not native to the Islands—helped make the Hawaiian forest a lot tastier, they said.

“And though the issue of whether the first pigs on Hawaii became feral prior to the arrival of Europeans remains contentious, extensive damage to native habitats by feral pigs appears to be recent. In fact, it was probably not until the twentieth century, with the introduction of new sources of protein such as earthworms and invasive fleshy-fruited plants that pigs were able to thrive in the forests, thus becoming a significant problem to the native flora and fauna,” they wrote.

Feral pigs are a problem in many parts of the world. They’re increasing their range on the Mainland as well, where they can be a major threat to established agriculture—chewing up corn fields and other crops. Pigs are Eurasian, originally, and didn’t appear in the Americas until the mid-1500s. Here’s a report on problems in Virginia. 

A team led by Pamela Scheffler wrote in 2012 about pig density in Hawaiian forests here. They found a direct correlation between increasing numbers of pigs and decreasing levels of native plants. The explanation in the paper is pretty damning.

“In Hawai‘i, feral pigs can be considered ecosystem engineers due to the changes they catalyze in Hawaiian ecosystems. They root and trample soils, disrupting soil microarthropod communities, leading to potential seedling mortality, and to reduced plant species richness. Feral pigs also eat or otherwise destroy native vegetation; cause changes in soil; act as dispersal agents and create habitat for exotic plants. They also create mosquito breeding habitat by knocking over and hollowing out troughs in native tree ferns and making rain-filled wallows.”


© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spiders are your friend, if you don't like all the other creepy-crawlies

So if you live in the Islands, you’ve got geckos in your house, and they’re annoying. But just how many insects are they removing to survive?

Probably a lot—and that’s a good thing for both your sanity and your health.

It turns out the spiders around your home, similarly annoying, are also removing insects from the environment—a lot of insects.

(Image: You won't find this one around your home. It's a sea spider, photographed by teacher Kaitlin Baird from a NOAA bottom trawl. Sea spiders are deep water creatures that tend to have very long legs and tiny bodies. Credit: Kaitlin Baird/NOAA.)

Globally, spiders are taking out 400 to 800 million tons of insects. A stunning amount.

That’s from calculations done by the authors of this paper

(Okay, we ought here to clarify that spiders are not themselves insects. Spiders are arachnids, and they have two main body parts and eight legs. Insects are six-legged creatures with three main body parts. There are other differences as well, but that should suffice for this discussion.)

Spiders have a much bigger impact in natural environments than disturbed or urban environments, but, still. They account for a lot of pest control.

One of the findings of the paper above is that if you remove spiders from the environment, you can expect a big rebound in insect populations.

“Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots.”

(Yeah, collembolans. Six-legged critters that used to be considered insects but no longer are. Commonly called springtails, for their prodigious jumping capacity.)

You may worry about predators like sharks and bears and snakes and mosquitoes, but spiders, say authors Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer, are “the most common and abundant predators in terrestrial ecosystems.”

The Eurekalert press release on their study is here. 

If you have spiders in your garden, think twice before removing them. All spiders are carnivores—they eat other creepy-crawlies and only very rarely will one munch a plant.

Hawaii has lots of introduced spiders, but its native spiders are a fascinating bunch. The happy-faced spider is perhaps the most famous, but there are lots more. The Nature Conservancy’s Sam Gon writes about some of them here

If you’re interested in the tiny critters of the island, I can recommend “What’s Bugging Me,” by Gordon M. Nishida and Joann M. Tenorio. And "What Bit Me?" by the same pair.



© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

All the stuff that's in you makes you sick, and makes you well. The microbiome is a new frontier.



What you eat feeds not only what you think of as you, but also the millions upon millions of bacteria, yeasts and other microorganisms that are in you—effectively, part of you.

And increasingly researchers are finding that that mixture of gut bacteria and other stuff plays a massive role in what makes you you. This is a new frontier in nutritional and disease science.

Let’s talk a little about how big a deal is this association between us and our biological tenants.

“All organisms, including humans, exist within a sea of microorganisms. A select few microbes cause great harm, but most are benign, some essential,” wrote Caroline Ash and Kristen Mueller in an April 2016 article in the journal Science.

“The human microbiome is a source of genetic diversity, a modifier of disease, an essential component of immunity, and a functional entity that influences metabolism and modulates drug interactions,” wrote the authors Elizabeth Grice and Julia Segre in this paper

The University of Hawai`i at Manoa is active in the microbiome work.

Canadian researchers have found that babies with particular microscopic organisms in their systems in the first three months of life are more likely to have asthma later in life. They studied babies in Canada and babies in Ecuador and found the same pattern, although it was bacteria in Canadian kids and yeasts in Ecuadorian kids.  

A study in the journal Cell found that kids fed the same diets could be healthy or malnourished depending on what bacteria they had in their guts.

A study in the journal Research in Microbiology found that babies born by caesarian section end up with very different gut biota from those born vaginally—often with bacteria picked up in the hospital rather than those from their mothers.

There’s a whole industry, probiotics, that argues that by eating certain things, you can adjust your microbiome to favor microorganisms that keep you healthy and disfavor those that make you sick. But there are cautions.

“The probiotic industry currently faces huge challenges. These range from exaggerated health claims to the difficulties of developing rigorous testing protocols within existing regulatory frameworks. All the same, probiotic development shows great promise for rebuilding microbiotas and restoring health, certainly for some individuals,” wrote Ash and Mueller in Science.

Earlier this month, the University of Hawai`i hosted the author of the book, “Let Them Eat Dirt:
Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World.” In it, Michael Finlay, with co-author Marie-Clair Arrieta, argue that early exposure to a range of microscopic life can be beneficial.

A lot of folks eat yogurt for its effect on gut bacteria. And University of Hawai`i researchers have studied the effects of poi as a non-dairy player in changing the mix of your internal biology. They didn’t find much impact from fresh poi, but they suggested that sour poi might have a different impact.

That paper includes a detailed review of probiotics, and it’s interesting reading. The authors are Amy C. Brown and Anne Shovic, of the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Salam Ibrahim, of the Food Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory, Department of Human Environment and Family Sciences, North Carolina A&T State University, Peter Holck, of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, and Alvin Huang, of the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Their paper is here

They wrote, in part, that “The probiotic theory is supported by the fact that a disruption in the intestine’s delicate balance may contribute to diarrhea, gastroenteritis, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), food allergies, and certain cancers. On the contrary, a balanced or “normal” enteric flora may competitively exclude possible pathogenic organisms and stimulate the intestinal immune system.”

So what all is in there? “The human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes that reside in and on our bodies. These microbes have tremendous potential to impact our physiology, both in health and in disease,” wrote the authors of this paper

Clearly, we’re learning a lot, but there are vast amounts left to learn. Hawai`i will be part of the information gathering, in part through the university’s involvement in the National Microbiome Initiative.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017