Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Island ground water reacts to big surf

Deep under the islands' surfaces, the groundwater is moving.

It flows, of course, from the mountains toward the sea. As rain falls on the surface of islands, it percolates down and forms a vast underground lake within the volcanic matrix. That lake is constantly at flow seaward, where the island's fresh water leaks into the salt water surrounding the islands. In some areas, swimmers can feel its cool flow where it enters the ocean below the surface near shore.

But the groundwater also moves up and down.

Researchers have long known that the water in the islands' aquifers rises and falls with changes in atmospheric pressure. But it also moves with the tides, and with periods of storm surf along the coast.

When storm surf pounds an island's shore, the change in the height of the groundwater can be measured in wells miles inland, according to research by Kolja Rotzoll, of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Islands Water Science Center.

Rotzoll and Aly El-Kadi, both associated with the University of Hawai'i UH Dept of Geology and

Geophysics Water Resources Research Center, published their study on the subject in the Journal of Hydrology.

The work was part of Rotzoll's work toward his doctorate degree. Its aim was to better understand the movement of water in the aquifers under islands. In research on Maui, he found that the impact of a major storm surf event on the coast can be measured as a rise in the water level in wells more than three miles in from the shore.

“The change in water level travels through the aquifer and can be detected as a net rise in the ground-water table kilometers away from the coast,” he said in an email.

The effect is apparently the reaction to a rise in sea level at the coast. When storm surf occurs, it shoves vast amounts of water up against the island, creating a rise in the overall level of the water.

That rise is reflected in the groundwater, although the damping effect of the island's rock does interfere with the reaction. The farther inland you measure it, the less is the rise in groundwater, and the longer is the delay in a reaction to a coastal surf event, says the paper by Rotzoll and El-Kadi.

“The research shows how ocean processes (waves, tides) are connected with responses in the aquifers,” Rotzoll said.

In areas with dense rock, the flow of fresh water can be slowed, and the reaction of ocean events like storm surf can be muted. In these areas, the water level may be significantly higher near the coast than the sea level.

On the other hand, in areas where there is little interference with the water flow, the movement is speeded, and coastal areas have groundwater much closer to the sea level.

“If the coast does not have a confining sediment layer like we have in the Pearl Harbor/Honolulu area, the water-table is close to sea level near the coast. Also due to the missing caprock, ocean water-level changes are transmitted more easily. Hence, in times of high tides or big swell events, the natural ground-water flow gradient could be reversed, which has consequences for not only ground-water flow, but also contaminant transport and might impact water quality,” Rotzoll wrote.

The Kona coast, where water readily flows through porous lava rock, is an example of an area where the action of the ocean can have an exaggerated impact on the groundwater near the shore, he said.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Monumental monument management plan, made manageable

If there were ever a way to scare people away from a document, how about putting it in four volumes and letting it run to 1,200 pages?

That's the new Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Draft Management Plan.

(Photo: IKONOS satellite image of Midway Atoll. NOAA photo.)

Something that long might work for Harry Potter, but certainly not for a planning document.

Even the executive summary is long. It runs five pages, and it's more a summary of the table of contents than a summary of what the plan actually says.

This is not to argue that it could have been done shorter—the task was enormous.

But there are ways to make sense of this thing—which even the Governor said she wouldn't read—if you want to trot out to your local library to pore over it, or wanted to download it (from

First of all, understand that it's not really a plan. It is no less than 24 different plans, and you could simply read the background information and the plans in which you're specifically interested, and you'd perhaps save yourself 1,000 or more pages.

Now you're down to just a fair-sized novel.

Here, then, is a reading guide.

Most folks ought to read the nearly 80 pages of introduction, because this gives you the essence of why we as a society are going through this exercise. One point is the immensity of the refuge—there's a nice map in which the monument is overlaid on the continental United States, and here you learn that if you could drive its length, the monument would be the equivalent of a passage from Maryland to Minnesota.

There's some information on the volcanic origin of the archipelago, of water temperatures and currents, and a nice, concise natural history of each of the 10 major reefs, islands or atolls that make up the emerged portion of the region.

For school kids, the introduction could serve as the basis for countless school papers, with a compilation of the human history, natural history, ecosystem threats and other issues.

After the introduction are a couple of dozen pages on the remarkably complex management framework that oversees the monument, led by a state agency (DLNR) and two federal agencies with often competing missions—the Fish and Wildlife Service (think conservation) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (in the Department of Commerce).

What they've agreed on in the draft is a mission to “Carry out seamless integrated management to achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of NWHI ecosystems, Native Hawaiian traditional and customary cultural and religious practices, and heritage resources for current and future generations.”

NWHI is, of course, the geographical name of the region, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The draft management plan then breaks down its mission into 22 separate action plans. We won't discuss any detail here, but we'll list their names:

Marine Conservation Science Action Plan, Native Hawaiian Culture and History Action Plan, Historic Resources Action Pan, Maritime Heritage Action Plan;

Threatened and Endangered Species Action Plan, Migratory Birds Action Plan, Habitat Management and Conservation Action Plan;

Marine Debris Action Plan, Alien Species Action Plan, Maritime Transportation and Aviation Action Plan, Emergency Response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment Action Plan;

Permitting Action Plan, Enforcement Action Plan, Midway Atoll Visitor Services Action Plan (which is different from the Midway Atoll Visitor Services Plan, also included in this draft);

Agency Coordination Action Plan, Constituency Building and Outreach Action Plan, Native Hawaiian Community Involvement Action Plan, Ocean Ecosystems Literacy Action Plan;

Central Operations Action Plan, Information Management Action Plan, Coordinated Field Operations Action Plan, Evaluation Action Plan.

The second volume of the four-volume draft monument management plan is an environmental assessment. Because it must act as a stand-alone document, it contains much of the same information in Volume I, but it looks at the data in different ways, considers consequences of and alternatives to many of the actions that could take place in the monument. The volume also contains a cultural impact assessment.

Volume III has a number of features, including the draft visitor services plan for Midway Atoll, including both the World War II historical side and the natural history side. Plus some other appendices, including the Presidential proclamation that formed the monument and the early regulations enacted to manage it.

Also, here is a list of the things people have to go through when working or visiting the most protected islands of the monument, to prevent their carrying pests or weeds there. Like wearing brand-new, never-worn clothing that's been frozen for at least two days—to kill anything that might be on or in it.

Volume IV consists, in its entirety, of the 24th plan in the draft monument management plan. It's the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Conceptual Site Plan, and—if you're still paying attention 1,100 pages into the series—it has the best photographs in the entire draft plan.

Midway is important, of course, because it's the only part of the monument that average folks would ever get to see, since most of the refuge is limited to scientific and some Hawaiian cultural activities.

Public meetings on the draft plan are scheduled around the state and in Washington DC. The Hawai'i meetings are all from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Here's the schedule:

O'ahu: Waianae Parks and Recreation Complex, June 9, 2008
Maui: Kahului / Maui Arts & Cultural Center, June 12, 2008
Lana'i: Lana'i High & Elementary School, June 13, 2008
Moloka'i: Kaunakakai / Kulana 'Oiwi Halau, June 16, 2008
Oahu: He'eia Visitors Hall, June 19, 2008
Hawai'i Island: Kona / King Kamehameha Hotel, June 17, 2008
Hawai'i Island: Hilo / Mokupapapa Discovery Center, June 18, 2008
Kauai: Lihu'e / Hilton Kauai Beach Resort, June 23, 2008
O'ahu: Honolulu / Japanese Cultural Center, June 24, 2008

The Washington meeting is slated from 1 to 4 p.m. June 11 at the Auditorium in the Main Department of the Interior Building.

The best resource for information may be, but there's other information at these websites:

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shaving peaks and educating the grid: The new face of electrical power

A unique public-private partnership will address some of the world's key future energy issues at the Maui Lani Substation of Maui Electric.
(Photo: New program could result in rewiring of the grid.)

The program—which is a piece of a three-year, $50 million, nationwide energy research effort--is designed to find ways to bring the power grid into the modern age, including allowing power grids to handle far more renewable power than they now can.

The $15 million Hawai'i project—one of nine nationwide—would be funded with $7 million in U.S. Department of Energy funds and $8 million from a range of partners that include research institutions, utilities and renewable energy providers.

It will be headed by the University of Hawai'i's Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute. Partners include General Electric, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Maui Electric Company, Columbus Electric Cooperative, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Sentech and UPC Wind.

Two significant problems with today's energy grid are these:

  • Power use has significant peaks and valleys. Utilities need to have generators to meet the peaks, even though those costly generators are superfluous during the rest of the day.

  • Utilities are running up against limits in the amount of intermittently available renewable energy they can now handle, in part because their grids are unable to respond quickly to variability, such as sudden drops in wind power when the breeze fails.

The new research effort is aimed at increasing the efficiency of the energy infrastructure and increasing its ability to handle renewable power.

One goal will be smooth out the day's load curve, primarily by reducing peak load by as much as 15 percent.

Other goals will be to look into energy storage techniques, distributed generation and responsive loads.

  • Energy storage would allow, for instance, solar photovoltaic power collected during the day to be available at night.

  • Distributed generation refers to the move from a central power generation scheme to one in which power is generated at many, smaller production sites—like wind farms, solar arrays, wave power facilities and more.

  • Responsive loads refers to methods for reducing the power demand as needed when there's a supply shortage. This can be done in a number of ways, including the concept of a “smart grid.” An electrical system could be reconfigured to provide two-way communication. In one scenario, utility customers could identify in advance the loads (such as water heating or swimming pool motors) that could be turned off in a crisis, and the utility could then avoid system-wide blackouts or brownouts by shutting off the designated loads—leaving other functions like lighting and power for electronics, unaffected.

“The deployment of this distribution management system will benefit Hawai‘i by providing improved reliability and power quality by addressing concerns such as energy grid congestion, energy reserves and intermittent power supplies,” said a press release from Gov. Linda Lingle's office.

Lingle announced the new program last week, along with Ken Kolevar, Assistant Secretary for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability with the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This is a groundbreaking project that again highlights Hawai‘i as a national center for new energy development. This project will help set the foundation to improve the reliability and efficiency of Hawai‘i’s electric grid system while allowing greater utilization of renewable energy sources,” Lingle said.

The effort is part of the new Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative, announced in January 2008. HCEI is a partnership between the state and the Department of Energy, and seeks to move Hawai'i to have 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030..

In a related issue, the Department of Energy recently announced that it will establish a research station at UPC Wind's Kaheawa Wind Farm on Maui. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will collect data at the wind generation factility as a Remote Research Affiliate Partner Site.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Snakes and other scary invasives targeted

The threat of new invasive species in Hawai'i grows with the expansion of trade, and with each increase in incoming cargo.

(Image: A brown tree snake fang. USGS photo.)

A bill that is moving well in the Hawai'i state Legislature seeks to help fund the inspection of cargo with a $.50 per ton fee. It is HB2843, and was in conference committee at this writing.

Invasive species have cost the Islands plenty in recent years—think about the bug that has killed off much of the state's ornamental wiliwili, causing landscapers to simply chain saw the trees down. And the aquatic weed that choked Lake Wilson, with an extensive, expensive cleanup cost.

“The coqui frog, Salvinia molesta, Miconia calvescence, ohia rust, nettle caterpillar, and little fire ant are all present in Hawaii, disrupting the delicate balance of our ecosystems, crowding out native species, and reducing the biodiversity of our islands. Other harmful species like the papaya mealybug, Erythrina gall wasp, Asian citrus psyllid, and Varroa mite have the potential to devastate our environment and agriculture if allowed to become widespread in Hawaii and spread unchecked by natural predators,” the bill says.

The elephant in the room, though, is a serpent. The threat of the brown tree snake is difficult to understate. In Guam, it has wiped out virtually all native birdlife, causes regular electrical outages, and crawls into babies' cribs to bite them.

Says the bill in the Legislature:

“In Guam, the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake has resulted in widespread devastation. Without natural predators or competition for food, brown tree snake populations have grown exponentially, causing mass extinctions of endemic birds. Where there were once bird songs, the silent forests of Guam are now home to as many as fifteen thousand snakes per square mile. Just one new pest like the brown tree snake could forever change the character of the Hawaiian islands.”

Despite a concerted effort, searchers still haven't found the latest apparent snake import, which was spotted last week at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i.

A particular concern is a dramatic increase in construction at military facilities in Guam, which will require considerably more movement between Guam and Hawai'i.

Christy Martin, Public Information Officer for CGAPS, the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said that current efforts in Hawai'i are “inadequate to ensure that all incoming cargo, ships and planes are inspected for brown treesnakes.”

Last year's Legislature placed a $1 charge on big incoming ocean shipping containers, but that did not cover the considerable amount of containerized air cargo and stuff that comes that's not in containers. House Bill 2843 would address that, she said.

It would replace the shipping container charge with the $.50 per ton fee on all cargo.

For an update on the bill, see

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ocean is striped with opposing currents--now, to find them...

Outrigger canoe steersmen look for the currents flowing the way they're going, which often can be only a few yards from flows that work against them.

Open ocean sailors can describe the oceanic furor where a major east-flowing current slides alongside a west-flowing section.

Scientists, including ones at the University of Hawai'i, have now determined that these changes in direction are amazingly common in the ocean. They are referring to the “striped” currents that are superimposed on every ocean.

In an article printed in New Scientist, researchers describe being shocked to discover the zebra quality of the oceans. A team led by Peter Niiler, of Scripps Institute of Oceanography studied the data from more 10,000 buoys drifting on the open oceans, and whose movements are tracked by satellite.

Clearly, the researchers found, the drifting buoys were being pushed by the wind, and were reacting the known major currents. But there was something else going on as well.

They were finding that buoys appeared to be responding to side-by-side flows in opposite directions. And where these currents met, there were either troughs or peaks in sea level. The current sections were about 90 miles wide, and existed all over the ocean.

“My god, we've never seen these before,” Niiler said in the New Scientist article.

The implications of the findings are significant, although the article didn't go into some of them. Although the water movement is comparatively slow, if such current flows are identifiable and predictable, for example, they could be used by oceanic shipping to reduce travel times as well as fuel consumption.

The researchers went out into the eastern Pacific to see whether they could actually detect on the water what they were seeing in the satellite data.

University of Hawai'i oceanographer Nikolai Maximenko, an associate researcher with the International Pacific Research Center, was among those who went out to check on the currents.

“Their existence is so surprising that we had to prove first that they are not an artefact of satellite data,” Maximenko said.

They found the currents. They were just oozing along, at about 120 feet per hour. Barely enough to notice, which may be why nobody noticed them before, he said.

“Only a very lazy canoeist would notice the effect,” Maximenko said.

On the other hand, the difference between going with the flow and going against it is 240 feet an hour, and in a four-hour boat race, being in the right flow could make a 1,000-foot difference at the finish. More than enough to make the difference.

The flows appear to extend deep into the ocean, and they could play a role in moving nutrients and ocean temperatures around. But researchers still don't know why they're there.

“They are a fascinating new aspect to the ocean's circulation, but the jury is still out on the mechanisms leading to their formation,” said Princeton University researcher Geoff Vallis.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Invasive locust ravages birds, plants on remote Nihoa

On the remote island of Nihoa, the invasive gray bird grasshopper appears to be a boom and bust insect, and a severe threat to both native birds and native plants.

(Photo: The east side of Nihoa island viewed from at sea. NOAA Ocean Explorer photo.)

The grasshopper is related to the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, which was responsible for the Biblical plauges. Cousin Schistocerca nitens has similar impacts. When its numbers explode, it eats everything in sight—robbing plants of their vitality, and potentially robbing some of Nihoa's 27 species of land and sea birds of both food and shelter.

Even the stiff leaves of the hardy Nihoa fan palm, Pritchardia remota, are chewed dramatically.

“Perhaps the greatest current threat to the native biota of Nihoa is predation by the nonnative grasshopper Schistocerca nitens, which has caused widespread defoliation of the island's vegetation over the last few years,” says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's five-year review of the status of an endangered Nihoa plant, Amaranthus brownii.

The agency reported that in 2006, the native amaranth could not be found at all, although biologists believe it still exists.

While many native bird species are negatively affected, one actually appears to benefit from the grasshoppers. The Nihoa millerbird, one of two native land birds (with the Nihoa finch) feeds on the insects.

The grasshoppers became established first in the main Hawaiian Islands, perhaps in the early 1960s. They were first documented on Nihoa in the early 1980s. The species has subsequently been implicated in the serial defoliation of much of the island's greenery, and researchers are studying ways to monitor and possibly control the insect.

In a paper to be published in the Journal of Insect Conservation, University of Wyoming grasshopper entomologist Alexandre Latchininsky reports the gray bird grasshopper is a threat to some of Nihoa's 26 vascular plant species, 27 bird species and 243 known species of arthropods.

During a drought in 2002-2004, the grasshopper severely denuded the island of plant greenery. Scientists visiting Nihoa said it appeared brown and dead. Then the numbers of grasshoppers crashed as well, perhaps for lack of moisture in the soil, which is required for grasshopper embryonic development, Latchininsky said.

Much of the island's vegetation recovered with subsequent rain, but researchers lack a clear picture of the long term impacts of the grasshoppers.

One of the issues for research and conservation is that Nihoa is so remote and difficult of access. The 170-acre or 156-acre island (depending on which source you believe) lies about 150 miles to the west-northwest of Kaua'i. Its topography is dominated by steep cliffs on the north, east and west sides, and the rocky southern coast can only be used for access during calm weather. As a result, most research trips take place in calm summer weather, meaning science has little good information on what conditions are like during winters, when conditions are generally wetter.

Nihoa is the easternmost island of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

For some great Nihoa photography, see Berkeley professor Peter Oboyski's site from his 2005 visit,

A report on University of Wyoming researchers' work on the grasshopper is here:

See a Google Maps aerial view at,-161.921289&spn=0.019585,0.040169&t=h&z=15%3E.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Thursday, April 17, 2008

When biology meets geology: Birds vs the volcano

The folks facing the daunting task of saving Hawai'i's endangered forest birds are also handling the daunting challenge of doing it on an erupting volcano.

(Photo: A Hawai'i island palila, Loxioides bailleui. Jack Jeffrey photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center sits perched in the forest atop the volcano Kīlauea, which has been erupting at two locations in recent weeks: the rift eruption that is creating flows to the sea and a summit event that is spewing gas and clouds of dust from the Halema'uma'u firepit.

The birders continue to raise colorful Hawaiian forest birds amid quaking and toxic air.

The 11 staff members working at the Center are keeping close watch on the threats caused by the volcano but are still doing their work.” said Alan Lieberman, conservation program manager for the program, which is operated by the San Diego Zoo.

“What to do if the threat becomes imminent? The staffers are preparing to move their birds, but hoping they'll be able to avoid it—because these birds don't respond well to stress.

“We have crates stacked up ready to fill with these birds if it becomes apparent we need to leave. These are very delicate species, however, and any kind of move could potentially cause enough stress to cause them serious medical problems. Until there is an imminent threat we will continue to care for these birds at the Center,” Lieberman said.

The six forest birds being raised at the center are part of a program aimed at learning how to breed these animals in captivity, so the captive birds can be released back into the wild to supplement endangered wild stocks.

Scientists from the center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Hawai'i state Division of Forestry and Wildlife have been actively releasing one species, the puaiohi or small Kaua'i thrush, Myadestes palmeri, into the wild in the upland forests of Kaua'i. For more on that program, see

The Center also works with the yellow palila of the Big Island. For more see

For more information on the San Diego Zoological Society and its programs, see and

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A sextet of Hawaiian anchialine shrimps

In the oddest, often most inhospitable habitats of the islands—deep in the most remote lava tubes and in tiny pools on fields of sun-baked rock—there is native Hawaiian life.

The native shrimps of Hawai'i's anchialine ponds are fascinating examples.

(Photos: Top: Kanehena achialine pool on Maui. Middle: Red and white color morphs of the 'ōpae 'ula, or Halocaridina rubra, heading in opposite directions. Bottom: The shrimp Procaris hawaiana. All phones by Mike Yamamoto, used with permission.)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources released photos of six species of Hawai'i's anchialine shrimps.

Anchialine ponds, where the shrimps live, are generally coastal ponds with no surface connection to the sea, but which rise and fall with the tides, suggesting some underground connection. They can range in salinity from nearly as salty as the ocean to quite fresh, with the fresh water often flowing from the mountains toward the sea.

Often the water is layered, with the freshest water lying near the surface and saltier water below.

“Three of the six species of anchialine pool shrimp are candidates for listing as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” said Lorena Wada, candidate conservation coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service for the Pacific islands. The three, listed below, are the Metabetaeus, the Procaris and the Palaemonella.

Hawaiian anchialine shrimps tend to be found in clean water in either lava coastlines or limestone areas with open sinkholes. Much of the time, the shrimps appear to remain in cracks and underground water-filled caverns that are not accessible to humans, and so they are hard to count and to study.

The best known of the six Hawaiian anchialine 'ōpae is the 'ōpae 'ula, of which eight distinct genetic lineages have been located—indicating that once these creatures take up residence in a new part of the island, they tend to be isolated there and evolve into unique forms.

The 'ōpae 'ula are found on Maui, Hawai'i and O'ahu.

They grow to about a half-inch in length and are by far the best-known of the tiny achialine 'ōpae, but hardly the only ones.

The Palaemonella burnsi is much smaller—in the range of a quarter-inch—and is mainly found in only the saltiest pools—three known polls on Maui and one on Hawai'i.

Procaris hawaiana, shown here, is pinkish in color and can grow to more than an inch long. It is found in two clusters of pools on Maui and one on Hawai'i.

Metabetaeus lohena can be pale pink to bright red, is about three-quarters of in inch long at maturity, and can prey on its cousin, 'ōpae 'ula. Its numbers appear to have been declining, but it is found on the same three islands as 'ōpae 'ula.

A plant-eater, Antecaridina lauensis is about half an inch long and reddish, and tends to be active at night. It is found in two groups of pools each on Maui and Hawai'i.

And Callaismata pholidota, from half an inch to more than an inch long, is pink to red with red bands. It's a predator and scavenger. It is apparently not common, and is found from a few pools on the Big Island and on Maui.

Learn more about the anchialine shrimps at a previous post here:

A Hawai'i state status report on eight shrimps is here:

A fact sheet on six species, with images, is here:

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Monday, April 14, 2008

The key future energy assumption: Make no assumptions

Americans tend to focus on a single solution, a magic bullet.

With energy, that may be the wrong approach, according to many participants in the recent Blue Planet Summit.

(Photo: Microalgae that produce lipids that can be converted into biodiesel. Credit: Paul Roessler, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

You need to get all the energy you can any way you can,” said Martin Hoffert, a professor emeritus at New York University and an aeronautical engineer.

One of the themes at Blue Planet was the concept of a distributed energy future, one in which multiple sources feed people's energy needs. In some situations, the mix of energy production would be determined by local conditions.

Geothermal might work on Hawai'i and parts of Maui, but not so much O'ahu and Kaua'i.

Biomass might work better on islands with a lot of abandoned agricultural land.

In areas where ocean floors drop off steeply, ocean thermal energy conversion might be appropriate. On windy ridges, wind turbines. On sunny roofs, solar water heating and solar photovoltaic.

And so on.

Picking favorites is generally not a good approach, speakers said.

A pet technology, whether it's hydrogen, corn ethanol, solar, or something else, must not be the sole focus, said Eliot Assimakopoulos, business development manager with GE Global Research and Development.

What we've have to have a holistic...a portfolio approach,” Assimakopoulos said.

When the U.S. Department of Energy has selected a technology to support, it has often been disappointed, said Denis Hayes, chief executive officer of the Bullitt Foundation and chairman of the Earthday Network.

An awful lot of what the Department of Energy placed its biggest bets on are losers,” Hayes said.

The challenge?

How to move forward on all these things are once,” said Bill Parks Jr., deputy assistant secretary for research and development with the U.S. Department of Energy.

A policy:

There is no technology that you can take off the table...They all have to be there,” said Mark Brownstein, managing director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The reason for it:

It's hard to prejudge which technology will work and which won't,” Hoffert said.

Certainly one of the things that has to be on the table is the transformation of the current view of the electrical grid, or what former CIA director James Woosley called the “loaded-up, Balkanized electricity grid.”

One view of the traditional grid is an octopus, with the generation plant at the head, and tentacles going out in many directions to touch the consumers.

Not only is that not a good analogy for the future grid. There may not be a nice analogy for the future grid. Shucks, it might not be a grid at all.

Certainly, there would not be a single generation source, but many sources of power. There could be interdependence and some levels of independence among power users. What serves as a grid could be interactive, constantly assessing its condition and making adjustments.

Some power users—for instance those with large photovoltaic arrays—might produce more power than they use. The batteries in personally owned electric cars might serve as distributed emergency storage units for the community grid.

How society thinks about future energy will require a different way of thinking, Blue Planet participants said.

The key assumption: don't make assumptions.

Not so much envisioning a sole solution, but rather envisioning diversity.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Loihi seamount yields volcanic glass, limu o Pele.

Limu o Pele is a magical product of the volcano, formed when waves wash over lava flowing into the sea.

(Photo: Limu o Pele fragment. USGS photo by J.D. Griggs.)

It is being created daily when Kīlauea's lavas ooze into the ocean.

Seawater gets trapped under molten rock. The water flashes to steam. The still-molten rock forms a huge, thin bubble. Almost instantly, the bubble wall hardens, the bubble explodes and and the tissue-thin fragments waft away on the wind.

If there's an onshore breeze, you can find it in greenish-brown see-through flakes of volcanic glass.

When I first saw it, the tiny flakes had filled voids in a lava flow and was gleaming gold in the setting sun. You could pick it up in your hand, and the fragments slid against each other.

It seems odd, but the stuff also forms deep under the sea, and is being studied at the volcano Loihi.

Loihi, sometimes called the “next Hawaiian island,” lies 20 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island. Its tallest point is still 3,000 feet below the waves.

There, the water temperature is cold, and the water pressure is extremely high. But the power of steam is enormous, and the presence of the volcanic glass flakes proves that the undersea eruptions create similar processes to those along the shore.

Still the Loihi limu o Pele is not identical to the stuff at the surface.

“Limu o Pele fragments quench at fantastic rates and that affects the structure of the glass,” said David Clague, formerly with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and now at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

A report on the Loihi volcanic glass was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters by researchers Marcel Potuzak, Alexander Nichols and Donald Dingwell of the University of Munich's Earth and Environment program, and Clague. Potuzak is also association with Corning, Nichols with the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology, and Dingwell with Stanford's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

The article is entitled, “Hyperquenched volcanic glass from Loihi Seamount, Hawaii.”

The used the limu o Pele bubble wall fragments to study the super-fast cooling of the volcanic rock as it formed the volcanic glas bubbles—a process they called hyper-quenching.

The limu o Pele at Loihi appears to “have experienced the fastest cooling of any natural volcanic glass measured to date,” the authors write in their abstract.

When the basalt from Hawaiian volcanoes cools slowly, the rock normally tends to form crystals. But the crystal formation can be bypassed, the authors write, if the lava can be cooled superfast.

Limu o Pele is not crystalline, “thus, the mere existence of such glasses on the sea floor is one measure of their rapid cooling,” the authors write.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Local food as a radical act

Local food is a powerful sustainability potion.

The second Kaua'i Conservation Conference at Kaua'i Community College, April 11 and 12, celebrated that with what they called an All-Kauai Meal.

(Photo: Kalo growing among sweet potatoes in a Kaua'i garden.)

It's an intriguing concept: eating local food as a radical act. Poi as a way to say, “Up the establishment.”

For most people, it might be baffling to try to figure out how to do an all local meal.

The “fish and poi” of a bygone era has been replaced, one speaker said, by Spam, Vienna sausage and rice.

And yet, if you want to eat food whose pesticide content can be readily determined by talking to the farmer, whose freshness is known, whose transportation cost is minimal, and which will still be available during shipping and air cargo disruptions—you need to eat local.

The All-Kauai Meal served at the conference had local beef, local kalua pork, locally caught ono, a couple of dishes of local greens, local (tasty!) purple sweet potato and some other local foods. The only non-local item was rice, which used to be grown on Kaua'i, but no longer is.

There's a distinct “if you build it, they will come” feature to eating local food.

The theory: If you spend money at Costco or Wal Mart, you're sending a message that those companies' products are needed.

If you spend money with local food producers, the message is that they can make a living producing their crops.

“Every time you put a dollar down, you're saying, 'I want more of this,'” said one speaker.

The opposite is, of course, also true. You can talk all you want about the value of and the need for locally produced food, but if you and your friends and neighbors don't buy it, it won't happen.

The goal ultimately would be to eat some or all of every meal from local farms—or from your own backyard garden. Marie Mauger at the conference suggested folks start small: just once a week, try to eat an all-local meal.

Ts we dine on fish from our surrounding seas, beef from the north shore, pork from the south shore, poi from the north shore, and vegetables harvested from Moloa'a and Kīlauea, all prepared beautifully and generously by local artisans, let us be thankful for the abundance on our island and share a vision for the future.”

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shift from oil to renewables: sexy enough for prime time?

The conversion from a fossil fuel-based economy to one based on renewables will be expensive and could severely depress the American economy, right?

Not only is that wrong, but it's WAY wrong, according to speakers at last week's Blue Planet Summit in Honolulu.

(Photo: Lights using energy-efficient LEDs, for light-emitting diodes.)

The evidence, including entire national economies that have made the switch, is that renewable energy invigorates economies rather than depressing them.

Robert Kennedy Jr. likes to use the example of Iceland, at one time oil-based and the weakest economy in Europe. The nation fought off naysayers and converted to hyroelectric and geothermal energy. Today, it has a thriving economy—the fourth strongest in Europe, he said.

Sweden has had similar success, he said.

All the speakers at Blue Planet who addressed the issue agreed. The first Blue Planet Summit was convened to help move Hawai'i and the world from fossil fuels toward an economy that does not depend on carbon-based fuels.

They envisioned, as Dennis Hayes said, “a super-efficient national economy powered by renewable resources.” Hayes was national coordinator of the first Earth Day.

“In the 21st century, green business is good business,” said Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona.

How to get as green as needed?

“We need an Apollo-like project on a national level,” said Sierra Club Hawaii director Jeff Mikulina.

“You have to equip young people with the idea that their decisions have consequences,” said Ramsay Taum, of the University of Hawai'i's School of Travel Industry Management.

“You've got to educate people on how to save money in their pocketbook every single month,” said Bill Paul, managing editor of

“You get transformation by transforming yourself,” said Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions.

Kennedy said that oil, coal and nuclear power are only cost-competitive with renewables today due to immense government subsidies—meaning folks are paying for much of their electrical power and gasoline through the Internal Revenue Service rather than through the electric bill and gas pump.

“None of these could survive in a truly free market...We do not have a free market economy in the energy sector,” he said.

Moving to renewables is far from an economic miss, but rather a big potential plus, others argued.

“This is the defining economic opportunity of our century,” said Mark Brownstein, managing director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

It's not just the environmental crowd that feels this way.

James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said America's economy and its national security are clearly improved by moving away from oil.

“We have to move away from oil. Not just import less—destroy its strategic position,” Woolsey said.

Gal Luft, of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, said it is as much a matter of survival from a security standpoint as an environmental issue.

“There are two clocks ticking here: the melting of the icecaps, and the melting of the West,” Luft said.

Since much of the nation's oil is burned in transportation, several speakers argued for flexible fuel cars, including ones that run on electricity.

“The transportation sector is 97 percent oil, dominated by oil in all of its parts,” Woosley said.

“It is a legitimate national security enterprise to develop cars that don't run exclusively on petroleum,” said Martin Hoffert, an emeritus professor at New York University.

Moving away from oil, said Lovins, “is simply better business.”

Using existing technologies, the nation can cuts its use of fossil fuels in half, at a profit, she said.

Lovins said what's needed is simply the commitment to move in that direction.

We need a BHAG: A Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal,” she said. In case you hadn't heard the term before, she pronounced it “bee-hag.”

One of the existing technologies that can immediately save people money and reduce fossil fuel use in Hawai'i is solar water heating.

“It is an immediate low-hanging fruit,” said Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric's vice president for public affairs.

The question is whether people in Hawaii and the nation will make the commitment to move away from fossil fuels.

“ needed for progress,” said Eliot Assimakopoulos, of GE Global Research and Development. In Hawai'i, he said, “certainly there is pain, but is there enough?”

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Laysan teals ascendant at Midway

They say there are more Irish in America than in Ireland.
Same thing could happen with Laysan teal on Midway.
(Photos: Top, an adult Laysan teal flaps at the ocean's edge at Midway Atoll. Credit: USGS photo by Jimmy Breeden. Bottom, Michelle Reynolds, Jimmy Breeden and Matt Brown inspect a teal's leg band at Midway. Credit: USFWS photo by Pete Leary.)
This small native duck, once well distributed throughout the Hawaiian archipelago, until recently had its only surviving wild population on the island that gives it its name—Laysan, a sandy island in the middle of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument that has a central super-salty lake and several small fresh-water seeps.
In 2004 conservation scientists moved a flock of the ducks or teals from Laysan to Midway, where several shallow ponds had been dug to support the birds. The goal was to protect the species from extinction by a natural catastrophe that might destroy the Laysan population.
Nobody anticipated how well the birds, whose scientific name is Anas laysanensis, would take to their new home.
Forty-two birds were translocated. Within two years, there were more than 100 of them. By 2007, the third year, the population was up to 200.
“If this growth rate continues, the size of the Midway population could surpass the source population before 2010,” says a paper in the Zoological Society of London's journal, Animal Conservation. It is entitled “Translocation and early post-release demography of endangered Laysan teal.”
The paper was jointly produced by representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Islands Ecosystem Research Center, the Hawai'i Cooperative Studies Unit, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The authors are Michelle Reynolds, Nathaniel Seavy, Mark Vekasy, John Klavitter and Leona Laniawe.
The project's organizers recognize that moving the birds from one isolated low island to another isolated low island a few hundred miles away isn't perfect protection, but it's something.
“Like Laysan's, Midway's population is vulnerable to catastrophes such as tsunamis, hurricanes, accidental introduction of rats or other predators and disease. However, with the exception of global sea level rise, it is unlikely that disasters will strike both atolls simultaneously. Thus, two populations provide some degree of insurance against catastrophic events,” the authors said.
At Midway, the birds showed that they are fully capable of thriving in new locations, and will adapt to new environments, taking advantage of new foraging opportunities. But they do need some fresh water—primarily for the chicks—some vegetative cover and enough food to eat.
But the success at Midway doesn't mean the movement of Laysan ducks is easy. They disappeared from all the other islands where they existed, in the face of habitat change, predators and other problems.
And a previous attempt at relocation failed. That involved the 1967 movement of birds to Pearl and Hermes Atoll, just to the southeast of Midway. Those birds died in a year.
What happened at Pearl and Hermes, an atoll with very small sandy islets that can be quite bare, may have been the result of an absolutely inadequate habitat for the birds.
“We suspect that the small number of founders, limited land area and low elevation susceptible to storm surge, plus the marginal habitat contributed to the disappearance of Laysan teal translocated to Southeast Island of Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 1967-1968,” the authors wrote.
Researchers hope to move other populations of the ducks to other islands, to further protect the species. The Midway experiment suggests that as long as there's fresh water, cover and enough food, in the absence of predators, they should do fine.
© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blue Planet: build energy coalition now

One overarching conclusion of the recent Blue Planet Summit is that it's time for disparate communities to join in the common goal of reducing oil dependence—to form what might be called ecumenical energy coalitions.
Ultimately, whether the concern is climate change, or terrorism, or nuclear proliferation in oil-rich states, or the fear of supply disruption, or oil spills, or the economic disruption caused by sending billions of American dollars abroad, summit participants generally agreed that petroleum and our dependence on it is a corrosive force in our world.
“We need a coalition—a big one—and the bigger the better,” said venture capitalist James Woolsey, former U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, who has solar photovoltaic panels on his roof, in part to fuel his plug-in hybrid car.
The four-day Blue Planet Summit, convened by software wizard Henk Rogers, brought together world leaders in energy, including a Nobel laureate, indigenous people from America and the Pacific, environmentalists, a utility firm, conservation folks, media, financial experts, alternative energy advocates and a significant film crew to document the proceedings.
Woolsey said there ultimately is little value in fighting over whether the measured warming in the world is caused by humans or isn't. Clearly, the warming is happening, and clearly, there is some percentage of likelihood it could have severe consequences.
“Catastrophic change is at least possible...It is a risk and we ought to deal with it,” Woolsey said.
Climatologist Stephen Schneider said it's possible to have multiple reasons for doing the right thing, and he urged participants at the summit to “build the political coalitions.”
“We have to stir some stuff up,” said Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day. “Stop talking about climate and talk about energy.”
It's not even that it costs a lot, said Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions.
“You can go half the way to decarbonizing at a profit” and use the savings the fund the rest of the voyage toward an economy that runs on efficiency and renewables.
“We have all the technology we need. We just need to begin,” she said.
Mina Morita, a Hawaii state representative from Kaua'i, said it is a moral imperative to move forward, and she argued that the direction comes best when it comes from the bottom and moves up.
“When people lead, politicians follow,” Morita said.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. argued: “The only way you save the environment is if you have a democracy that works.”
The message about the need to move away from fossil fuels is not lost on utilities. An oil-based system “is no longer tenable,” said Robbie Alm, an executive vice president of Hawaiian Electric.
(Disclosure: The author of this article attended the conference, moderated a panel discussion, and helped summarize its contents for summit participants.)
© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Monday, April 7, 2008

Limits in sight on wind energy?

Hawai'i is within sight of maxing on out one of its most effective alternative energy sources—wind. At least, that's the case with today's electrical grid system.
On one island—Maui--the electric utility has already rejected one wind generation plant, saying current planned windfarms are all its grid can handle.
On O'ahu, Hawaiian Electric is looking at two wind suppliers who propose to provide as much as 300 megawatts of wind power—but it is likely to only be able to handle one.
Maui already gets a lot of wind power, 30 megawatts, from the Kaheawa windfarm. To add too much more of such a variable power source would overtax the utility's ability to provide firm power to customers, the utility says.
The Big Island grid already has more than 30 megawatts from three wind fields, and Kaua'i officials are concerned about the impact of a single 12-megawatt proposed windfarm.
HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg outlined the issue with respect to Maui.
“We looked at two excellent projects, one from Shell Wind at Ulupalakua Ranch in eastern, up-country Maui and one from UPC, to roughly double their existing wind farm in Western Maui above Ma'alaea. Deciding which would go first was difficult and came down to location.
“On a small grid like Maui's, there's a limit to how much wind power it can take at one time. Having two wind farms in two locations with two different wind regimes for now will make it easier to accept more wind on Maui's system now,” he wrote via email.
A similar issue exists with the two proposals to power O'ahu. One is UPC Hawai'i Wind Partners' proposal to install a 300 megawatt windfarm on Moloka'i and run the electrical power via undersea cable to O'ahu. Another is Castle & Cooke's proposal to put a similarly sized windfarm on its land on Lāna'i, and to cable it to O'ahu.
Either one would approach a quarter of O'ahu's power. The issue for the utility is, what do you do when suddenly the wind stops blowing? With a massive power drop like that, under current grid scenarios, it could get real dark real fast on O'ahu.
On Kaua'i, where UPC has proposed a 12-megawatt windfarm, the utility asked the wind operator to include enough storage to give Kaua'i Island Utility Co-op one half-hour's notice before it will cut off power to the grid.
In essence, if the wind stops blowing, UPC calls the utility to warn it to fire up some generators. Meanwhile, batteries keep providing KIUC with firm power until it gets the generators going.
It seems to be a feasible partial solution at a small scale, but more work is needed to be able to scale it up to big systems.
Rosegg said that both storage technology and grid management technology need to move forward if the grids are to accept significantly larger proportions of wind power—or any intermittent source of power.
In the Maui scenario, he said: “We hope technology advances for storing and adapting wind power make it possible to add a third wind farm on Maui in the future.”
UPC, meanwhile, has gone to the state Public Utilities Commission to argue that Maui Electric should, in fact, accept the additional wind power.
Meanwhile, on Moloka'i, UPC is holding meetings this week and next with the community, to tell residents about its plans, and to see whether they support them.
“UPC will only build a wind farm if the community supports the project,” the firm said. The project may further be impacted by Molokai Ranch's recent announcement it was closing virtually all its Moloka'i businesses. The wind farm is proposed to be located on ranch now owned by the ranch.
The public meetings are scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m. As follows.
Tuesday, April 8, at Kaunakakai Elementary School (Kaunakakai)
Wednesday, April 9 at Maunaloa Elementary School (Maunaloa)
Tuesday, April 15 at the Kilohana Community Center (Mana`e – East End)
Wednesday, April 16 at the Lanikeha Facility (Ho`olehua)
© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hawai'i citrus crop under attack by new bug

An Asian sucking insect, capable of carrying a severe citrus disease, is established in the Islands.
(Photo: life stages of the Asian citrus psyllid. Credit:USDA.)
The Asian citrus psyllid is also a problem on the popular hedge plant known as mock orangte or orange jasmine—which has leaves smaller than most citrus leaves and bears clusters of fragrant white flowers.
The critter is known as Diaphorina citri, and was first found in the Islands on a navel orange branch that had been submitted to the state Department of Agriculture by a Waiakea resident wondering what was infesting his orange tree.
The psyllid sucks the sap out of its host plants, and can cause them to be misshapen and weakened.
But it's also a bigger potential problem, because it is the main carrier of an incurable citrus disease called citrus greening disease, or huanglongbing.
So far, the psyllid is in the Hawaiian Islands, but the disease is not.
The pest has spread over much of the Big Island, along the Hilo side, up to Volcano and other parts of the island, since its discovery in 2006. It is also found extensively on Maui from Pukalani to Lahaina and other areas.
The psyllid showed up in Florida in 1998. The disease showed up in 2005.
Last year, the psyllid was discovered in Guam. Agriculture officials in Guam issued this notice in a community pest alert:
“The citrus psyllid is found on the underside of young leaves and buds. The insect sucks the sap of plants, causing leaf distortion and curling. Affected leaves may be covered with honeydew and sooty mould. Adult psyllids are 3 to 4 mm in length, and have a yellowish-brown body and greyish-brown legs. Wings are clear and mottled with brown edges. Nymphs are smaller and generally yellowish-orange in colour. Psyllids are often confused with aphids, which are of similar size and are common on tender young citrus leaves. The main difference is that aphids move slowly, whereas adult psyllids are active insects that jump when disturbed and may fly a short distance. Adult psyllids also hold an unusual posture on the leaf head down, almost touching the surface, rear end pointing up at an angle. Like aphids, psyllids are often tended by ants, which are attracted to the honeydew they produce.”
The bacterial disease that the psyllid can carry causes discolored leaves and misshapen, green and bitter fruit. It can cause a plant's vascular system to collapse. There is no known treatment for infected trees, and agriculture officials recommend they be destroyed once infected.
There appear to be some predators of the psyllid present in the Islands, including certain ladybird beetles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on a range of strategies for controlling the spread and impact of both the psyllid, and where it is present, the disease.
The main measure thus far seems to be to keep the disease under control by limiting the numbers of the bug— through biological control, chemical control and planting systems that limit its populations.
Information on the psyllid is available at:
© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate