Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New year mission: clean up the water

Hawai'i saw no tsunami or hurricane strikes, but the year 2008 was filled with reminders of our fragility.

(Image: Muddy water on a resort beach, without many visitors swimming.)

The annual year-end tourism bump is tempered by visitors disgusted by muddy water off many of the islands, along with reports of sewage spills in many areas. We count on repeat visitors. Will they be back?

Meanwhile, the economic slump across the world continues to trash the Islands' economy.

Molokai Ranch closed its doors and laid off nearly all its workers. The landline phone company, Hawaiian Telecom, filed for bankruptcy. Norwegian Cruise Lines withdrew all but one ship from the Islands' waters.

One of the two airlines that have dominated Hawai'i skies for most of the last century failed, and a new diversity entered the market, with Hawaiian, Go!, Mokulele and Island Air all providing statewide service.

A single lightning strike knocked out the Honolulu grid for hours, reminding of the risks of a centralized utility grid.

Rainstorms several times flooded homes across the state, and caused repeated sewage spills—a Third World eventuality that just keeps happening.

And what of the future?

There's lots to worry about. We can't deal effectively with all our challenges, but let's suggest one approach.

Today's Wall Street argues for this: Protect your assets.

One big asset, in a state dependent on tourism, and in which many residents use the ocean for recreation and food: clean, blue water.

One significant good-idea initiative: Keep the water clean.


One: Take aggressive measures to reduce soil erosion that turns waters brown with every heavy rain. It's hard work. It may affect flexibility in agriculture and construction operations. But the entire community is damaged by inaction. More attention to this may also reduce the flow of pesticides and nutrients into nearshore waters.

Two: Harden sewage systems to reduce the likelihood of spills to the ocean. The reasons for this are obvious.

Three: Every big rain is accompanied by a pulse of coastal debris, as water bottles, plastic bags, diapers, and other trash wash from the streets into streams and then into the sea. We must enact and enforce effective programs to further cut down illegal dumping and littering, particularly near streams and coastlines. Launch efforts to intercept debris before it gets to the ocean. Keep the trash off the beaches.

It will take a multidisciplinary approach that involves many agencies. Among them, the state Department of Agriculture (ag runoff), county construction inspectors (construction runoff), federal EPA (coastal pollution), Department of Land and Natural Resources (erosion from public forest lands), county wastewater offices (sewage spills), and private property owners.

An argument could be made for some kind of coordinated response, perhaps a statewide water czar with an extraordinary portfolio capable of enforcing action.

©2008 Jan TenBruggencate

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HECO/Sensus smart meters, smarter than they look

When Hawaiian Electric and Sensus Metering Systems announced a plan to put “smart” meters all over O'ahu, Maui and Hawai'i, Hawai'i media outlets missed or underplayed the significant piece of this scheme.

The new meters are way smarter than they at first appear.

Sure, they're wireless, meaning the electric company can get billing information without having to send its meter readers out in cars. Just 19 towers scattered around the islands will be able to monitor the meters.

But the communication won't be just one way.

“This is an enabling technology. It's going to give the utility and the customers more options,” said HECO's Darren Pai.

The proposal to put the “FlexNet wireless smart grid solution” meters in place requires state Public Utilities Commission approval, and any changes in service and rates will also require approvals. But its capabilities appear to be remarkable.

The utility can check on its grid any time. It can reconnect disconnected services remotely. It can diagnose trouble spots far more quickly and efficiently, thus improving reliability for the consumer.

The new meters can be provided with upgrades via the wireless system of their firmware—the programs that run their electronics.

For consumers, there is the potential of much greater control over electrical use and the power bill.

As an example, Hawaiian Electric could establish different rates at different times. With higher rates during peak hours, and low rates when use is low, the utility could shift demand—and reduce the need for new power plants.

For the consumer, being able to shift water heating, ice-making, electric car charging and other high-demand uses to cheaper times means savings.

Example: If you have an electric-backup solar water heater, and the family finishes showering at 7 p.m., the water heater is going to turn on to provide you with hot water in the morning. But that will be near the peak utility electrical use—the big generators will be operating near capacity. There would be no downside to shifting the heating a few hours later, and you could help shift the utility's peak and reduce your bills as well.

In the nearly impenetrable words of the press release from Hawaiian Electric and Sensus: “These features will support new pricing and demand-response initiatives to help customers manage their own electricity use by taking advantage of various pricing options, and programs designed to enhance energy conservation efforts.”

That kind of flexibility is also key for the implementation of large-scale renewable energy efforts. It could be used to shift load to times when intermittent renewables are available—when the sun's shining for solar, when the trades are blowing for windpower, when the swells are significant for wave power.

HECO's Energy Solutions Vice President Karl Stahlkopf said the deployment of the smart meters will help achieve the goals of the state's Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative, helping encourage expanded use of renewable energy.

For more on Sensus and its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), see

©2008 Jan TenBruggencate

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lehua rat eradication launches in January

Government officials will begin the restoration of little Lehua Island's natural habitat early in January, after several years of planning.

The rabbits that ate off much of the island's native vegetation have already been removed, and the next step will be control of rats, which have been eating seeds, live plants and birds.

(Image: Lehua from the air. Credit: NASA image via Google Earth.)

A supplemental environmental assessment for the project was completed earlier this year. (See our previous post at One of its recommendations was the timing of the predator control for a time when bird populations on the island are lowest.

The rat control project will employ the aerial distribution of a rodenticide, diphacinone.

The same compound was used for the removal of rats from Mōkapu Island off Molokai, and it displayed low toxicity to native birds and marine life. Diphacinone has been used worldwide for the removal of invasive rodents from island habitats. At Lehua, followup testing will be performed to determine whether there is any residue in either land or marine species.

“Rats are known to have eliminated many seabird species from islands around the world by eating bird eggs and preying on live birds,” said an announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Wildlife officials hope that once the rats are gone, some of the native vegetation will return naturally, but they also propose a plant restoration project, in which species known or believed to have occurred on the island will be planted.

Lehua Island is a 310-acre tuff cone, similar in shape to better-known Molokini off Maui. It lies less than a mile off the north end of Ni'ihau and is about 20 miles from the west side of Kaua'i. Sixteen species of seabirds nest there, although the number may have been higher before the rats and rabbits.

For more information on the project, call Chris Swenson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 808-792-9400 or Thomas Kaiakapu, Department of Land and Natural Resources at 808-274-3443.

©2008 Jan TenBruggencate

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old scope, sexy new applications: sizing up planets

The University of Hawai'i's 2.2-meter telescope is older than nearly half of Hawai'i's population, and it's a fraction of the size of newer scopes, but it's still doing good science.

In part, you can thank for that the cutting edge instrumentation that's being bolted on to the aging mirror.

(Image: UH 2.2-meter telescope dome on Mauna Kea. Credit: Karen Teramura.)

The telescope's latest claim to fame: it was used to measure the exact size of a planet that orbits around a star in our Milky Way that is 300 light years from Earth. The star is called WASP-10.

The telescope was built in 1970, making it 38 years old. Median age of Hawai'i's population in the 2000 census was 39.7. And among the newest telescopes, the twin Kecks are each 10 meters across and the Subaru and Gemini are both in the 8-plus range.

In its most recent publicized feat, the UH 2.2-meter scope was fitted with a camera that can measure light so accurately, the scientific team says, that it could “detect the passage of a moth in front of a lit window from a distance of 1,000 miles.”

By measuring how much the light from a distant star dims when a planet passed in front of it, the device could be used to determine the diameter of the planet

The research was done by a UH Institute for Astronomy team led by astronomer John Johnson. He worked with astronomer Joshua Winn of MIT, MIT graduate student Joshua Carter, and Georgia Institute of Technology student Nicole Cabrera.

The camera, designed by Institute astronomer John Tonry, is amusingly named OPTIC, for Orthogonal Parallel Transfer Imaging Camera. The camera is a digital model similar to your home digital, but stupendously more powerful.

Not long ago, astronomers had no way to detect or measure the existence of planets around stars other than our Sun.

More recently, they've been unable to detect anything but the most massive planets around distant stars.

For measuring stars the size of our Earth, OPTIC can't quite do that, but it hints at the possibility.

"This new detector design is really going to change the way we study planets. It's the killer app for planet transits," Winn said.

For now, the research team announced it was able to use OPTIC to measure a Jupiter-sized planet around WASP-10. Using other techniques, the mass of the planet, itself known as WASP-10b, had been calculated. When OPTIC measured its diameter, astronomers were able to calculate its density.
In the world of astronomy, this is real sexy stuff. A paper on the discovery is to be printed in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

For more information:

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Big, beautiful, disease resistant, long shelf life--what's not to like?

Researchers at the University of Hawai'i's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources are cheering a new arrival, an impressive newly bred anthurium that shows great market potential.

(Image: The new Mauna Loa anthurium, held by Harold Tanouye of Green Point Nurseries. Credit: Green Point Nurseries.)

The new bloom, named Mauna Loa, is a huge thing, 10 inches long, and green at the margins with a glossy white interior. Growers figure they can get up to six flowers per stem annually from it, and that it is resistant to problem plant diseases like anthracnose and bacterial blight.

It has a vase life of nearly two months.

The flower was entered by Green Point Nurseries of Hilo in the Other Cut Flowers category in the Society of American Florists' 2008 Outstanding Varieties Competition, and it won a red ribbon.

The flower was developed in the University of Hawai'i's anthurium research program from a small white “obake” anthurium by Heidi Kuehnle, Haruyuki Kamemoto, Tessie Amore, John Kunisaki, Joanne Lichty and Janice Uchida. It originated in 1987 from “Tropic Ice,” a small white obake previously released by the college.

“Obake” is a Japanese word for supernatural beings, and in Hawai'i is normally translated to mean “ghost.”

The Mauna Loa is in a class of obake anthuriums that include the large pure white Mauna Kea, and the small white Tropic Ice, from which the Mauna Loa was bred.

The anthurium research program, established by Kamemoto in 1950, has produced more than 40 new varieties since 1963. Anthuriums are now the state's top cut flower, with annual sales approaching $5 million in 2007.

For more detail see

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Big wave, wind generators proposed for Penguin Bank, Kaiwi Channel

A Seattle company has proposed a series of wave and wind energy generators in and south of the Molokai -to-O'ahu Kaiwi Channel.

The wave generators would sit on the broad shallows called Penguin Bank, which extend into the Kaiwi Channel and to the southwest of western Molokai. It is an area with strong tidal flow. There are no images of what the units would look like in the application to date.

(Image: NOAA chart annotated by author, with very approximate locations of the various features. Canoe paddlers and others take widely different routes from Molokai to O'ahu, depending on conditions. Grays Harbor has not indicated where within Penguin Bank it would place its pilot generators.)

Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company has filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission an application for permits for its Hawaii Ocean Energy Project. It is one of several permit requests Grays Harbor has filed, for similar projects in New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, New York, and Rhode Island. All were filed on the same day, October 22, 2008.

Life of the Land has filed an application to intervene in the permitting, noting that “this is the first application for a large scale ocean energy system in Hawai'i and will establish policy and set the tone for this and future ocean energy proposals.”

Grays Harbor proposes 100 wave energy conversion structures at maximum capacity of one megawatt each, for a total maximum production of 100 megawatts. That's the goal, but for now, the firm wants a pilot project to install just two of the 1-megawatt generators for testing.

It also says that wind generators could be built atop the wave energy structures.

The firm says in its application that the project would create utility-scale renewable energy from offshore wave energy, would enable testing of new wave energy technologies, would create jobs and would improve fishing “because the supporting platforms become artificial reefs.”

Of Penguin Bank, the company says this:

“The Penguin Bank is the eroded summit of a sunken volcano, now a broad submarine shelf off Molokai Island with depths of 12-180 feet. It is capped with sand and fossil corals. The Bank is generally too deep for most live corals and is a relatively barren habitat compared to shallower waters nearby. The base rock is lava of the same kind that forms Molokai Island. Strong tidal currents are reported at the edges of the bank around the 100 fathom (600 feet) line and across the bank.”
The region is actively fished, is used for several kinds of sporting activities, including canoe, kayak and paddleboard races, and is part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The developer says the “proposed technology of fixed structures cannot entangle whales in cables or lines.” The project's wave energy units could be, but would not necessarily be in the path of the sporting events. Much of Penguin Bank lies well south of the routes most paddlers take.
The project would use an undersea cable to carry power to O'ahu.

The Hawai'i application says “the site proposed has been chosen with highly detailed information regarding its actual power potential and suitability for existing technology. The specific vendors for the major technologies and systems have already been selected. The site proposed therefore is not speculative. It is the best place for the only technology package we believe will work in that region.”

Life of the Land's Henry Curtis, in the organization's request to intervene, did not take a position on the project, but said it would have impacts that need to be considered.

“Life of the Land's members are concerned about energy issues, ocean issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, endangered species and increasing transparency of complex governmental procedures...All energy projects have both positive and negative impacts, and each individual proposal needs to be evaluated on its particular unique facts....The Penguin Banks is an area noted for deep ocean fishing. Penguin Banks also has cultural significance to the native Hawaiian community,” Curtis wrote.

For more details on the application, see the FERC website at

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ocean fish farming puts wild stocks at risk...for lice

The farming of fish in net cages is taking yet another hit for its impact on wild fish.

(Image: Salmon in the wild. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image.)

Predictably, keeping living things in crowded circumstances creates issues—whether it's fungal attacks on monoculture crops or recurrent colds among kids in pre-school.

On fish farming, the tight confines of the netted pens promote parasites, which then can infest wild fish, said University of Hawai'i professor L. Neil Frazer, of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, School of Ocean Science and Technology. He wrote an essay in the journal Conservation Biology.

And in some ways, he argues, this form of marine farming creates issues that land-based agriculture doesn't. But he also suggests that there are ways to respond to the problem.

“Farm fish...share water with wild fish, which enables transmission of parasites, such as sea lice, from wild to farm and farm to wild fishes. Sea lice epidemics, together with recently documented population-level declines of wild salmon in areas of sea-cage farming, are a reminder that sea-cage aquaculture is fundamentally different from terrestrial animal culture,” Frazer wrote.

His work was done on Mainland salmon farming, not on any of the local fish farming projects. But Frazer said his work helps explain the phenomenon of declines in wild fish populations around salmon sea cage fish farms.

One issue: In the wild, a sick fish might quickly weaken from inability to feed or be eaten by a passing predator. But in cages, managers use medications and adequate feeding to keep them alive.

“The difference is that sea cages protect farm fish from the usual pathogen-control mechanisms of nature, such as predators, but not from the pathogens themselves. A sea cage thus becomes an unintended pathogen factory,” Frazer wrote.

Sea lice are crab-like creatures that infest fish, eating skin and other tissue and creating injuries that can be opportunities for infection. The prevalence of the parasite can create in increase in the overall number of parasites in the environment, increasing the chance that they will infest wild fish.

Frazer said his work shows that wild fish in the environment around fish farms can be reduced in number and may even disappear.

How to respond? Frazer does not argue that fish farming must be halted. To respond to the issues he raises, he has several recommendations:

“Declines of wild fish can be reduced by short growing cycles for farm fish, medicating farm fish, and keeping farm stocking levels low.

“Declines can be avoided only by ensuring that wild fish do not share water with farmed fish, either by locating sea cages very far from wild fish or through the use of closed-containment aquaculture systems. These principles are likely to govern any aquaculture system where cage-protected farm hosts and sympatric wild hosts have a common parasite with a direct life cycle,” he wrote.

For more information, see

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ancient secret unveiled: Five extinct Hawaiian birds were originally Americans

Hawai'i changes people, and it changes other living things, too—like several native birds that have been living under deep cover for millions of years.

(Image: Rare shot of the now-extinct Kaua'i 'ō'ō by noted naturalist Rob Shallenberger. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service.)

New DNA work shows that five species of Hawaiian forest birds—long thought to have evolved from islands of the Western Pacific—are actually originally American birds.

It's just that they evolved in the Hawaiian environment to look like island birds, and they've been fooling scientists for more than 200 years.

Tragically, all five species are now extinct. They include the Big Island kioea, and the Hawaii, Moloka'i, O'ahu and Kaua'i species of the 'ō'ō.

“The Hawaiian 'honeyeaters,' five endemic species of recently extinct, nectar-feeding songbirds in the genera Moho and Chaetoptila, looked and acted like Australasian honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), and no taxonomist since their discovery on James Cook's third voyage has classified them as anything else,” wrote scientists Robert C. Fleischer, Helen F. James and Storrs L. Olson, all of the Smithsonian Institution. Their report was published in “Current Biology.”

These birds looked remarkably like the honeyeaters of the Solomons, New Guinea, Bougainville, Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and other islands of the Western Pacific. So everyone who knew birds was convinced that's where they'd come from.

They were classified among the Australiasian honeyeater family, Meliphagidae, although in their own genera: moho for the 'ō'ō and Chaetoptila for the kioea.

The old classifications: Hawai‘i ‘Ō‘ō, Moho nobilis; Moloka‘i ‘Ō‘ō, Moho bishopi; O'ahu ‘Ō‘ō, Moho apicalis; Kaua‘i ‘Ō‘ō, Moho braccatus; Kioea, Chaetoptila angustipluma.

But curious scientists never stop looking, and the team collected DNA samples from museum specimens collected in Hawai'i a century to a century and a half ago, when the birds were still found, thoughthey were rare even then. A book published in 1892 termed Hawai'i “Land of the O-o.”

Author Ash Slivers (a pseudonym), wrote about the birds. A copy of the book is available at Google Books:

“There is a bird called the 'O-o,' that formerly inhabited the islands in considerable humbers. Its plumage is glossy black, except a few feathers under the tail coverts, and a little tuft on each shoulder; these are golden yellow, and from them, in ancient times, royal robes were made. A garment of that kind is now in possession of the Queen, and one is in the Bishop collection. They are valued at incredible sums, as the species is virtually extinct. If you chance to ask a native anything about birds, he is sure to tell you of the 'O-o;' but after that he doesn't know the difference between a bald-headed eagle and a blue-jay,” wrote Slivers, otherwise known as Charles Burnett.

He either knew his birds or had talked to someone who did, since he includes interesting details of the bird's anatomy.

“By a beautiful contrivance of Nature, the O-o carries, at the tip-end of its tongue, a peculiarly equipped, delicate and sensitive brush, by the aid of which it extracts from the calyx of flowers the honey-pools there to be found; and this constitutes largely its main supply of food,” he write, adding that the birds would not turn down a meal of banana or insects.

The DNA evidence studied by Fleischer, James and Olson found that the Hawai'i birds weren't even closely related to those in the Western Pacific. Rather, their nearest relatives were among the waxwings of the Americas, and that their first Hawai'i ancestor had arrived a very long time ago—as much as 14 to 17 million years ago.

While their Mainland ancestors were mainly insect and berry eaters, the Hawai'i birds evolved to take advantage of the nectar in Hawaiian flowers, even evolving specialized split and fringed tongues that assisted in nectar feeding.

Fleischer, James and Olson, with a nod to the traditional scientific terminology, place the Hawaiian birds in their own family, Mohoidae.

Their assessment from genetic data of the time of the birds' ancestor's arrival indicates that it interestingly occurred about the same time as that of the first bird-pollinated plants.

Is there a connection between the arrival of the bird pollinated plants and the nectar sucking birds? Also, why did an American waxwing evolve into something that looked and acted like a Western Pacific honeyeater?

This sort of thing has happened before in nature, and it's something the scientific community calls convergent evolution. That's when very different things evolve to have similar features. Example: Salmon have fins and seals have flippers. One's a fish and one's a mammal, but those swimming devices look quite alike. Another example: wings on bats and birds.

In the words of the scientists who worked on the kioea and the 'ō'ō: “Convergent evolution, the evolution of similar traits in distantly related taxa because of common selective pressures, is illustrated well by nectar-feeding birds, but the morphological, behavioral, and ecological similarity of the mohoids to the Australasian honeyeaters makes them a particularly striking example of the phenomenon.”

(Just to keep things confusing, there's another bird in Hawai'i called the kioea. It's the migratory bristle-thighed curlew. To be clear, that kioea is different from the extinct kioea that's a member of Mohoidae.)

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Monday, December 8, 2008

Transpo future gets a new face; X Prize could define it

What's the future of the passenger car?

That's an open question, and it's getting opener.

(Image: A green compressed air car, competing for the Progressive Automotive X Prize. Credit: the X Prize folks.)

Perhaps an electric vehicle with entirely new charging and management scheme, like the one proposed by Better Place, with a private company managing the battery packs while you own the car.

Maybe an electric or hybrid vehicle on the internal combustion model—you own the car, drive to a fill-up station, but simply plug in rather than pumping gas.

But both of those can use cars on the existing vehicular platform. You can't tell them from gas and diesel cars.

Sure, maybe the future looks just like the past.

But then there's the X Prize. The Progressive Automotive X Prize is offering a $10 million prize for the best car capable of going 100 miles on a single gallon of gas or the equivalent (like the amount of electricity equivalent to a gallon of gas—or diesel, or something else), while still being able to carry four individuals and being a vehicle folks would actually use.

We've been covering the X Prize in this website (check out our last post on the topic at

Recently, when we asked for an update, the organization's Carrie Fox wrote: “We’ve recently opened the Registration Period, and now have 22 Registered Contenders, out of the 120+ that signed Letters of Intent to compete. Registration remains open until February 2009 and we expect that many more teams will join this first 22 in the Registered Contender status.”

There's a fair chance that this competition will show us a new face of electric vehicles.

The spider-looking Aptera producer ( is among the initial contenders. So is Zap (, which makes all sorts of electric vehicles, including scooters and bikes, and has a sexy-looking three-wheeler in mind, with the single wheel in back. TTW Italia ( has a futuristic three-wheeler with the single wheel in front.

Avion ( is entering a pure diesel that it figures can beat 100 miles to the gallon. The Physics Lab of Lake Havasu ( is entering its Green Giant, an electric drive train in a full size SUV “exploiting hydraulics, PV, heat-steam, diesel/natural gas, and hydrogen.”

MDI/SPM from France ( is entering with its compressed air car.

And there are plenty of other innovative ideas.

To look at some of them, check out the X Prize site,

Many of them are traditional-looking sedans in which dreamers and engineers are sticking really hot technology, but some are, well, pretty different looking.

And maybe that's the future.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oceans acidifying 10 times faster than thought

Our island state and the world are even more severely threatened by the acidification of the ocean than previously known.

(Image: Washington State waters, where researchers measured dramatic increases in acidification.)

Scientists are already measuring declines in populations of creatures as a result of acidification—and notably the replacement of certain shellfish by acid-tolerant seaweeds.

Ocean acidification is perhaps the most under-reported feature of the steady advance of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“For a potential environmental problem that is receiving increasing attention, there is surprisingly little published data in the scientific literature on how pH in the ocean is actually changing over time, and none that we know of outside of the tropics,” said Tim Wootton, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

Some of the seminal research on sea acidification was performed in Hawaiian waters just within the past couple of years. But new research is adding breadth and depth to that data—and it is finding that the oceans are growing acid alarmingly faster than anyone thought.

Wootton's team, including colleagues Catherine Pfister and James Forester, conducted a multi-year study of ocean acidity off Washington State. One of their findings was that there is considerable variability in the pH level of the ocean, based largely in changes in ocean biology. But the other finding was that acidity is rising very fast.

Their paper, “Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The fundamental process is this: As carbon dioxide increases in the air, it mixes with the water, forming carbonic acid. The result is that the pH of the ocean—the measure of water acidity or alkalinity—is decreasing. That means the ocean is growing more acid.

“An alarming surprise is how rapidly pH has declined over the study period at our site--about 10 times faster than expected,” Wootton said in an email to RaisingIslands.

He said his studies showed that acidity of the oceans varies with changes in biological activity in the ocean, but that the overall direction is toward greater acidity.

Some of the creatures that most obviously are affected by the pH changes are ones that develop shells made of calcium carbonate or have skeletons that are weakened in a less alkaline environment.

“Although we have some idea about the chemical processes affecting pH in seawater, know that pH affects integrity of the calcium carbonate shells and skeletons that many marine animals have, and can demonstrate that plants and animals respond to reduced pH in the lab, we also know that we cannot easily extrapolate laboratory studies to ecosystem in nature,” Wootton said.

His team's work out in the real world shows that the laboratory results do reflect what happens in nature, but not necessarily entirely accurately.

“Our analyses reveal generally reduced performance of calcifying organisms, as expected, but this does not uniformly hold true. Because of the extensive experimental studies we have carried out at our site, we know that these exceptions are readily explained by the web of interactions among species,” he said.

Among those species most significantly affected, according to the study, were large calcifying mussels and goose barnacles. Since these animals are in the food chain for other species, it suggests a larger impact that is not yet readily apparent.

In the paper, the authors write about the challenge:

“The results of our analysis of ecological dynamics follow the general prediction that declining pH will negatively affect calcareous species, but the web of species interactions complicates the response,”
For instance, while the mussels and gooseneck barnacles did more poorly, acorn barnacles and certain fleshy seaweeds actually did better.

The essence: things are changing, changing fast, and we don't know exactly where they'll end up.

This blog has covered acidification aggressively in several previous posts:

© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate

Monday, December 1, 2008

Slimy snails, slippery slugs--more here than you ever thought

Something nipping at your seedlings and chewing at your leaves?

Could be a snail or a slug, and it could be because there are more of them here than anyone guessed.

(Image: Giant African snails, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website,

A new survey found 38 non-native snails and slugs in nurseries in Hawai'i, five of them entirely new. They found two more species, but those were the native ones.

The surprising finding lands on top of the rejection of a Christmas tree shipments this year due to slug infestations. And it points to another way for alien pests to enter the Hawaiian environment. They can ride the winds and waves, hitchhike on planes and ships, but a lot of them arrive on plants.

If they arrive on aircraft, then they have a convenience denied to many human passengers these days: inflight meals.

The new study was published in the international Journal of Pest Management under the title, “The horticultural industry as a vector of alien snails and slugs: widespread invasions in Hawaii.” The authors are Robert H. Cowie, Kenneth A. Hayes, Chuong T. Tran and Wallace M. Meyer III, are from the University of Hawai'i's Center for Conservation Research and Training.

The infestation of nursery stock is a problem for various reasons. It can cost the nursery companies money when their shipments are rejected at the port. And they cause problems with production within the nurseries as they feed. Furthermore, they can cause problems outside the nurseries.

“When they are transported to and become established in new areas they may cause agricultural, horticultural and environmental problems,” the authors wrote.

The tiny coqui frog is an example. Unlike the snails and slugs, this denizen of nursery products makes its presence heard with a piercing evening call by its males.

The slug and snail study looked at 40 nurseries on six islands. Every nursery on every island was infested with multiple species.

“The rate of introduction of new species of snails and slugs shows no sign of declining,” the authors wrote.

They urge awareness on the part of nursery operators and quarantine officials. Nurseries, both to protect their own investments and to protect the gardens of their customers, are encouraged to maintain hygienic facilities.

In part, the issues is that with many of the smaller and hard-to-find species, it's not yet clear what their impacts will be on the local environment. Do they carry disease, do they eat some garden species in preference to others, do they compete with and push out native species?

“While some ... consequences, notably of the larger, more obvious species, are clear and dramatic, little is known about the impacts of the smaller and less noticeable species, yet these may also be important,” the authors wrote.

©2008 Jan TenBruggencate