Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lehua Island restored to the birds; Rats appear to be gone

Shipwreck remains on Niihau beach, with Lehua in background.
The `iwa or great frigatebird swept low over a cluster of trucks, stacks of equipment and a Jet Ranger helicopter on the northern end of Ni`ihau.

As I followed its black-winged form with binoculars, the angular bird made several passes and then returned to its roost on Lehua Island, a gray-brown tuff cone island, just a thousand yards across the Kumukahi Channel from Ni`ihau.

Teams of wildlife professionals worked both Ni`ihau and Lehua in late August and early last month,  using a helicopter guided by computer mapping programs to deliver rat bait across the rugged islet. I was present for one of the sessions.

A month after the final application, indications are that rats no longer populate Lehua, although a final determination of rat presence will be made a year from now, which any survivors--if they exist--will have had a chance to reproduce and make their presence known.

For now, survey teams are finding no footprints at burrows or other indications of rat activity, according to Sheri Mann, head of the Kaua`i office of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. They will keep monitoring for the next year, to confirm that preliminary finding.

The Lehua Island rat eradication project should improve habitat for frigatebirds and dozens of other bird and plant species on the little island—just as wildlife has thrived after similar eradications at other offshore Hawaiian islands, like Mokoli`i Island off O`ahu and Mokapu off north Molokai.

After eradication of black rats on Mokoli`i, successful shearwater nesting became common, coastal naupaka sprouted, and seashore rat-predated species like pipipi and `a`ama crab became abundant.
At Palmyra Atoll to the south of Hawai`i, after rat removal long-absent seabird species established successful nests, shoreline fiddler crabs thrived, and native tree seeds sprouted where they once were eaten.

Lehua has now been given three applications a pale blue pellets of rat bait containing diphacinone—less than a pound of the anticoagulant in several thousand pounds of food grade cereals like wheat and oats and other rat-friendly food items. The new bait was developed by Bell Laboratories in Madison, Wisconsin.

“We’ve had really high acceptance rates of this new, more palatable bait,” said Gregg Howald, North America regional director for Island Conservation, the non-profit that conducts invasive species eradication efforts on islands around the world, in association with partners and landowners.

The Lehua operation’s partners include the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife and its parent agency the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center in Hilo, Niihau Ranch, U.S. Coast Guard, National Tropical Botanical Garden and several other associated organizations and agencies.

The $1 million Lehua project has funding from several sources, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Island Conservation. The results will be monitored for several years.

Several hundred small islands from the equator to the arctic have now been cleared of rats and other invasives. Why islands? Because although their land area is small, they are important crucibles of biological diversity--home to many endangered species, and once home to many species now extinct.

Through my binoculars, I could see the white, brown and black forms of petrels, great frigatebirds, boobies, noddies and other bird species, wheeling on the thermals above Lehua’s sloping spine.

One species, the tiny band-rumped storm petrel, is now entirely missing—arguably because its small size and noisy habits on the nest make it particularly vulnerable to rats, said Nick Holmes, Island Conservation’s Director of Science.

Perhaps on a rat-free Lehua, it will be able to re-establish itself.

Meanwhile, planning in Hawai`i is already underway for a much bigger challenge—clearing the island of Kaho`olawe of species like mice that are inhibiting the island’s revegetation. The Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission is in discussion with Island Conservation and others about the best ways to accomplish that goal.

© 2017 Jan W. TenBruggencate 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Want to lose weight? Go with your gut, or your mom, but not the internet.

You need to lose a little weight, so you go to the internet for solutions, right?


Asking the internet for advice is like asking random people for technical help, except that the internet is also populated with an oversupply of trolls who rejoice in misleading you, along with a whole lot of hucksters trying to sell you things that may or may not help.

I came across a news report that suggested the body’s natural messenger to prevent overeating is a hormone called leptin. So, how do you increase leptin and decrease your appetite?

I went online.

Oh my, the lies, the errors, the active commerce, and the answers from people who know less than you do. 

Here’s Wikihow, which has a long list of tips, including that you should eat protein for breakfast, and definitely not cereal, because after all, cereal is “full of lectin, which actually binds to your leptin receptors, keeping leptin from being able to do its job.”

Of course, then you go to Livestrong.com and the first recommendation is to eat plenty of cereal with fruit, because of the fiber: “Fiber gives you a feeling of fullness, causing your intestinal tract to send a signal to your brain to release more leptin.” 

Some sites say get lots of sleep, because if you don’t sleep your leptin levels drop and you eat.

This guy says it’s all about diet. 

These paleo diet folks say it’s all about diet and lifestyle. They’ll sell you a daily diet program.

These guys will sell you a different diet program to help you “master your metabolism.” All you need to do is buy their book. They’ll also sell you dietary supplements like collagen protein, and “performance coffee”, which cost more than the book.

There are lots of websites that talk about secret foods you must never eat. And others that talk about supplements you must use—and particularly the high quality supplements available exclusively through their particular firms.

I appreciate Healthline for telling you what you already knew. They key to health and weight is no secret: Eat more protein, fewer carbs, more fiber, avoid processed food, sleep better, exercise

Wow. Forget about leptin. Eat right, sleep well and stay fit. You didn’t need the internet for that. Your mom could have handled the job.

© 2017 Jan W. TenBruggencate 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Frankenreefer: GMO marijuana exists, and more is coming.

Free and natural cannabis. Credit: USDA
As our state and nation lumber toward absolute legalization of marijuana use, the fake news crowd is having great fun generating toxic smoke.

We're here to clear the air.

There is a lot of absolute conjecture and supposition in this field, most of it baseless—or to use the latest terminology, Fake News.

We will review here some of the really smelly stuff on the internet, and then what’s really going on.

Did Monsanto create a GMO strain of marijuana, in an evil plot to take over the industry? Well, no, that would be a steaming pile, generated by the FakeNews website, World News Daily Report. 

Yes, this site is all cowcrap, and admits it. Satyrical, fictional, it says on the opening page, and any resemblance to truth is "purely a miracle." There are dozens of sites like it that promulgate the internet hoax, which Wikipedia defines as “deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as the truth.”

But Monsanto-branded GMO bud is a fun story, so not to let it die, some folks are arguing that if Big Ag isn’t genetically modifying pot, it soon will be. Here’s something from the site Herb, which reads as what it is, speculation.  

The bible of the reefer industry, High Times, continues to insist that it’s all a hoax, and that all today’s marijuana, while carefully interbred for potency and flavor, is the result of natural husbandry techniques, not laboratory genetic modification. 

You’ll see reports that the federales busted massive GMO pot operations, without any indication, no offer of proof, that the pot was in fact GMO. 

The marijuana seed company Dutch Passion goes out of its way to say it does not do genetic engineering, and that its crops are not GMO. 

But that said, its blogger, “Dutch Joe,” says GMO dope is inevitable. Dutch Joe says he believes it won’t be Monsanto, but Big Pharma that does it:

“I expect the pharmaceutical companies will invest heavily to genetically engineer a cannabis strain that yields ultra high levels of the whole spectrum of cannabinoid chemicals. The aim will be to extract and isolate them into individual cannabinoids on an industrial scale using thousands of tons of bud. Once individual cannabinoids are isolated I expect they will find their way into pills for very specific medical purposes.”

So, enough of the herb-addled inferences and implications.

The truth is that some GMO cannabis exists, and it is actively being researched, and Frankenreefer isn’t far off.

Italian researcher Fidelia Cascini actually tested strains of superstrong pot and said they were consistent with normal genetics, not laboratory-engineered genetics: 

“Our analyses support the hypothesis that marijuana samples submitted to forensic laboratories and characterized by an abnormal level of Δ9-THC are the product of breeding selection rather than of transgenic modifications.”

But that said, other Italian researchers have already created new genetically modified strains of cannabis by bombarding them with radiation to create the genetic mutations, and this was 15 years ago. 

Here, in the journal Botany and Biotechnology, is a report that talks about the ways to accomplish genetic modification of marijuana: “biotechnology companies have emerged that anticipate commercializing cannabinoid-based drugs in yeast and tobacco and to produce hemp cultivars.”

That's a strange one. What if, due to all the legal issues with the crop, you didn’t want to work with cannabis? 

What if you could create the active ingredients in another form of life—maybe yeast. Yep, that’s being done. And tobacco, as mentioned above.

In summary, there is a lot of interest in biotechnology of cannabis—the creation of GMO pot and the creation of variants of pot's many active ingredients. There are already strains in laboratories of GMO marijuana. And you can expect more.

 “Cannabis is a precious plant with multiple applications, hence the possibility of engineering it genetically to produce useful compounds/raw products is highly valuable,” said an article in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Archipelago-building volcanic hot spots moving scarcely if at all.

New scientific research suggests that volcanic hot spots—like the one that created the Hawaiian Archipelago—are far more stable than previously believed.

Stable, as in, they don’t move much on their own.

(Image: The line of volcanoes forming the 80-million-year-old Hawaiian-Emperor Chain. The bend is at 45 million years. Credit: NOAA.)

Hot spots are those plumes of molten rock that punch through the Earth’s crust from the mantle. They tend to create lines of islands or mountains as the crust moves across them.

The Hawaiian hot spot is believed to have been responsible for the Hawaiian-Emperor chain of islands and undersea volcanic peaks, which runs from Lo`ihi and Hawai`i Islands to the southeast, up to the Aleutians in the northwest.

It has been assumed that both the hot spot and the crust are in movement, but a team of researchers from Rice University’s Department of Earth Science, say their study suggests hot spots move very little, and often not at all.

Their paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters is “Bounds on geologically current rates of motion of groups of hot spots.” In it, lead author Chengzu Wang and his collaborators, say “the rate of hot spot motion perpendicular to the direction of absolute plate motion…differs significantly from zero for only 3 of 10 plates and then” by very little.

What that means is that it is safe to use hot spot volcano progression as a way of calculating the historic movement of the tectonic plates that make up the planet’s crust, they say.

Rice University’s press release on the paper, headlined “Hot Spot at Hawaii: Not So Fast,” starts with the line, “Through analysis of volcanic tracks, Rice University geophysicists have concluded that hot spots like those that formed the Hawaiian Islands aren’t moving as fast as recently thought,”

Our previous coverage of scientific work suggesting that the hot spot is, in fact, doing a lot of moing, is here. 

For more on Hawaiian hot spot activity, see RaisingIslands articles on hot spot depth here. 

On the mysterious bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor chain here and here.

On the relationship of Kīlauea, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa here

Clearly, this is dynamic stuff, but slow-moving.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lehua rat removal: risk minimal, benefits huge.

Wedgetailed Shearwater chick early August.
There are times when doing nothing is the worst alternative.

We have the opportunity, the technology and the funding to remove aggressive, invasive, non-native rats from the Lehua island bird reserve. We should do it.

What a tragedy for ourselves and our descendants—not to mention the native wildlife, if we did nothing.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing addressing the issue this summer, when rat populations are seasonally low and rat food supplies are low—so they are more susceptible to attractant bait.

(Images: A wedgetailed shearwater chick on Lehua in early August. The same chick, dead and partly eaten, presumably by rats. Credit: Island Conservation.)

The agency proposes using techniques that have been deployed successfully on hundreds of oceanic islands around the world, including several in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is the aerial application of rat bait containing the anticoagulant diphacinone

And while there are risks, those risks seem minimal. There have not been problems with injury to other species when rats were removed from Mokoli`i off O`ahu, from Mokapu off Molokai, from Kure Atoll’s Green Island or from Midway Atoll.

Lehua, a volcanic tuff cone islet north of Ni`ihau, is a bird refuge, but one severely compromised by Pacific rats, which have been there for decades. A dense environmental assessment for the Lehua  rat removal project is available here.

Same chick, killed and partly eaten by rats.
There have been angry arguments against the project, which minimize the actual damage done by rats, and seem strongly driven by the anti-pesticide movement. Take a look here.

Some Kaua`i residents at recent public meetings have expressed concern over the use of rat bait near the coastline. It is a valid concern, but there is ample evidence from previous eradication programs that the bait breaks up in minutes in the water, and sampling has shown no active chemical remnant in the water just days after the application.

There is no evidence of fish kills or detectable toxicity at previous rat eradication efforts on small islets around Hawai`i.

Tests at Palmyra Atoll, which has a robust coral reef system, showed no impact on corals from a much more dense application of rat pellets than proposed for Lehua. A small number of shorebirds could be impacted, but that has not been the case in previous Hawai`i eradications.

So there is a small relative risk. What’s the benefit?

Here is a paper from 2014 on the impact of rats on small tropical islands around the world. 

Rats are a problem everywhere they exist. On Lehua, swarms of rats eat seabird eggs. They kill chicks. And they attack nesting adults. By limiting seabird populations, they reduce the size of oceanic bird flocks that trollers use to identify schools of fish. They even go down to the nearshore rocks and prey on crabs and `opihi.

Rats also feed on native trees and their seeds, and are partly responsible for the loss of Lehua’s native dryland forest. That lack of vegetation promotes sediment runoff from the island into nearshore waters. And they eat the insects on the island, including native insects.

And there is a long-term positive impact not only to the environment of Lehua itself, but addressing the larger global issues facing nesting seabird species.

One of the great benefits of promoting Lehua’s safety for nesting seabirds is that it is a high island, and in an era of climate change and sea level rise, it will provide nesting habitat when the low bird islands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are drowned.

This seems to be a well-thought-out project using a mature technology, with minimal risk, and one that addresses a real environmental threat.

It is reasonable to be concerned about risks, but it is not reasonable to refuse to act when the benefits far outweigh any theoretical risks.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Duck and cover. Climate catastrophe now probably inevitable

The climate chickens are coming home to roost, and the news for farmers, coastal cities, wildlife, people who don’t live in high-elevation bunkers and humans who drink water—they are now likely to be disastrous.

And that’s the best case scenario, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

The scary thing about changing climate is how intertwined it is with everything in our lives. As the Hawai`i Climate Adaptation logo suggest, Pili na mea a pau: All things are related.

The only way to avoid it being even worse is with herculean effort. Far more effort than is now being engaged. And nobody’s likely to be putting out that kind of effort—especially not our country, which just walked away from the Paris climate accords.

The latest predictions of climate warming suggest that by the end of this century, there’s a 90 percent chance the earth will be significantly hotter than the disastrous 2 degree rise that folks have been predicting.

There’s a small chance that it will stay as low as 2-degree rise, and a small chance of as much as a 5-degree rise. The median rise is now estimated to be 3.2 degrees, according to authors of a new paper in Nature Climate Change.

We are already so far down the climate change turnpike that even really strong measures would only keep the warming to 2 degrees, said the paper’s lead author, Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington statistician.

"Our analysis shows that the goal of 2 degrees is very much a best-case scenario. It is achievable, but only with major, sustained effort on all fronts over the next 80 years," he said in a Eurekalert article.

Scientists have long known it could be that bad, but the International Panel on Climate Change and others have downplayed the worst case scenarios, in part because they are so horrific as to be easily rejected. Imagine cities under water. Farmlands poisoned by saltwater intrusion. Coastal resorts washed away. Flooding in dry areas and drought in our breadbaskets. Storms. Massive wildlife losses.

“Damages from heat extremes, drought, extreme weather and sea level rise will be much more severe if 2 degrees C or higher temperature rise is allowed. Our results show that an abrupt change of course is needed to achieve these goals." said one of the paper’s co-authors, Dargan Frierson, a University of Washington associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

The study was a detailed review of climate data, country by country.

"This is a high-tech statistical model that looks at what has happened to per-capita output in each country, to carbon intensity in each country, and to population in each country. What we find is that there is a wide range of what could happen, but unfortunately the bottom end of the range is still fairly bad, and the top end of the range is catastrophic," said another of the paper’s co-authors, University of California at Santa Barbara economist Dick Startz.

"Our predictions assume that carbon intensity is going to continue to trend downward, as it has been. That still leaves us in a mess. The only thing that is going to get us out of it is finding a way to make carbon intensity fall much more quickly than it has been," Startz said.

He said it is difficult but possible to envision a global initiative that could keep the temperature rise within some limits, using major advances in energy technology, but he’s not hopeful. Carbon intensity as been declining, but not nearly fast enough to make a significant impact.

"We can hope for some magic breakthrough or we can do the unpleasant task of charging more when we're polluting. But even that might not be enough," Startz said.

California already has a sense of how bad it could be in terms of sea level rise, as the state earlier this year released a major report on the subject. It’s available here.

California, as Hawai`i is, is already seeing some of the early effects, the report said: 

“Coastal California is already experiencing the early impacts of a rising sea level, including more extensive coastal flooding during storms, periodic tidal flooding, and increased coastal erosion.”

Much of the sea level change in recent decades has been from thermal expansion of ocean water, glacier melting and ice cap melting. But the planet is moving into a new phase in which there is melting of the massive ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

California’s take on the most likely sea level rise by 2100 without significant mitigation? That would be 1.6 to 3.4 feet.

Worst case? Ten feet.

Hawai`i's efforts to understand the local impacts of climate and related changes are being overseen by the state's Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee, which has a website here

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

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.


(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 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?


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