Thursday, January 29, 2009

Celebrating Teddy Roosevelt's Hawai'i environmental vision

There's been a lot of media attention in recent weeks to President's Bush's claiming his environmental credentials in naming three new marine national monuments in the Pacific, but few remember that President Teddy Roosevelt went there first.

Long before it was the popular thing to do.

And a century earlier.

(Image: A fairy tern nests in an old ironwood tree at Midway Atoll. Photo: Jan TenBruggencate.)

One hundred years ago, Roosevelt established the Hawaiian Islands Reservation, protecting the reefs and birdlife of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands—that more than 1,000 miles of islands, shoals and reefs that extend west-northwest of Kaua'i and Ni'ihau.

The reservation eventually became a national wildlife refuge and later part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The specks of land in this region of the Pacific are, from east to west, Nihoa Island, Necker or Mokumanamana Island, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Midway Atoll and Kure Atoll.

Millions of seabirds breed and roost on these islands. Their reefs and sandbars are home to breakthtaking arrays of marine life, many species unique in the world.

The history of the place is mysterious, sad, tragic and uplifting. Early Hawaiians lived here and left plenty of archaeological records, but they had abandoned the islands by the time of Roosevelt's declaration.

Dozens of shipwrecks are have been located here, dating back to the whaling days of the early 1800s. Feather collectors slaughtered tens of thousands of seabirds—one of the reasons Roosevelt acted to protect the place. Ill-considered introductions of alien species like rabbits wiped out much of the native life on land.

There are stories galore.

It's hard to get out to the islands, but the centennial of Roosevelt's designation will be celebrated next week at the nearest road-accessible National Wildlife Refuge, the one at Kīlauea Point on Kaua'i. There is more than just a proximity connection. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands refuge was once administered from Kīlauea Point, where shortwave radio traffic with the remote islands was handled.

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, staffers from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will give presentations every half hour from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Authors Mark Rauzon (Isles of Refuge: Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands) and artist Patrick Ching (several wildlife books and numerous wildlife prints) will autograph their works.

“I still remember working in what is now the contact station – the small building next to the lighthouse – waiting for radio calls with Tern Island,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer Noreen Bautista. “We worked in shifts, and often had contact only at night. During the summers we also talked with crews working on Laysan Island.”

In a press release issued by the service, its superintendent for the Papahānaumokuākea monument credited Roosevelt.

“This centennial offers us an opportunity to celebrate the many years of conservation that have preceded us and the current work ongoing within the Monument to protect its natural and cultural resources, as well as to look toward the future. We are honoring the foresight of President Roosevelt in setting aside this remarkable place, and we are acknowledging our responsibility and privilege to inspire future generations to continue that mission.”

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Monday, January 26, 2009

JF Rock's 1913 Hawaiian must-read now on Google Books

One of the most remarkable volumes in Hawaiian botany, Joseph Rock's “Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands,” is now available on the Web.

The 1913 compendium is full of photographs and descriptions. If you love Hawaiian history, vivid description and Hawaiian trees "Indigenous Trees" is a necessity.

The book is available in a couple of locations, including Google Books and at the Internet Archive's American Libraries site. Links at the bottom of this article. (A comment from a reader, seen below, led me to update the post with the American Libraries link.)

The photographs are stunning, although not well reproduced by Google Books. They are, however, good enough to encourage people to visit their local libraries to view them in the original. The text is compelling, describing a Hawaiian landscape quite different from what we see today, and adding amazing bits of information, like the role of human disease on the decline of the native palms. More on that later.

Rock, a famed Hawai'i explorer, ethnographer and botanist, explains his goal in the opening words:

“It has long been the writer's desire to give to the public a volume on the native trees of Hawaii, giving popular as well as technical descriptions of the trees peculiar to Hawaiian soil.

“At first it was thought that plain popular descriptions would suffice, but it soon became evident that the technical part could not be dispensed with, and in order to make the book valuable for both the layman and the scientist, it was therefore included.”

Rock worked the Hawaiian forests early enough that he was discovering new stuff all the time, and he notes that his book added an entire genus, 22 species and a pile of varieties of Hawaiian plants.

The book is useful in numerous ways, but is valuable in part because Rock uses the Hawaiian names as well as English and Latin monikers.

And it is useful to see what the impact of a century is on the landscape. The Austrian Rock was working in the Hawaiian Islands from his arrival in 1907, at age 23, onwards. He later left the Islands to spend his mature career of more than 25 years in China—where he wrote books, dictionaries and much more. He returned to Hawaii after World War II and died here in 1962.

Worldwide, his is most famous for his China work, but in Hawai'i, he has been seen as one of the seminal botanists, an explorer and chronicler without peer, and among the first to produce a volume that was useful to and understandable by the lay reader.

He worked in a time when much of the lowland area of Hawai'i was still being converted from native forest to plantation agriculture and other kinds of development. And grazing animals had not yet destroyed many of the older stands of native trees. Today, when people want to be in a largely native forest, they head into the uplands. That wasn't necessary in Rock's time.

“...each island, with the exception of Kahoolawe, and also Niihau, has its peculiar leeward lower forest flora, which is in all cases richer in species as far as tree growth is concerned than the rain forest,” he writes.

But the decline was happening as he worked.

“On Kauai, the dry or mixed forest zone has almost entirely disappeared and only a few trees can still be found. Most of the land has been cleared for sugar cane fields up to an elevation of nearly 2000 feet; above Makaweli only little is left, while above Kekaha only grass land spreads up to an elevation of nearly 3000 feet,” he writes.

Rock starts with a detailed description of the individual islands and forest zones, and then switches to detailed plant descriptions. Within his texts are intriguing tidbits. For instance, he says the native fan palm, loulu, was used to weave “excellent hats.” But he said disease made it difficult for residents to climb the trees, so they chopped down the palms to get at the leaves.

“It may be stated that excellent hats are made from the young fronds by the natives. This, however, has caused much havoc; the present generation, being more or less afflicted with the hookworm, finds it easier to cut the palms down rather than climb them for the single young frond necessary for a hat,” he writes.

Hookworm infections were once common in many parts of the world. The disease caused anemia, weakness and fatigue, but rarely death. The parasite has largely been eradicated in many parts of the world, and drugs are available to cure infections. Global hookworm eradication programs were being launched about the time Rock published “Indigenous Trees.”

The original 1913 volume went out of print, but was reprinted by Charles E. Tuttle Co. in 1974. It is again out of print, and used copies are being sold as antiques. It has 548 pages and 215 large photographic plates.

It's a big file on Google, but you can read it on the web or download it to your own computer here. The Internet Archive American Libraries site seems to have better quality on the photographs. It's here.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Merging technology with biology

Lasers are useful as pointers in public meetings, for aiming weapons, for directing energy and for many other purposes—but they also can play an important role in biology.

Increasingly, biologists are employing the most complex technologies available, and merging multiple technologies to accomplish things that were never before possible in the natural sciences.

In a recent example on the Big Island, scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Carnegie Institution combined high-accuracy GPS, plus advanced spectral imaging, with distance-measuring lasers to measure large-area changes in the natural landscape.

The equipment was mounted in aircraft, and permitted a three-dimensional detailed look at the forest cover.

A report on the project was published this month in the journal Ecosystems, under the title, "Environmental and Biotic Controls Over Above Ground Biomass Throughout a Tropical Rain Forest.” The combined airborne technology is called the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. More on that here.

The satellite-based positioning inherent in GPS tells researchers precisely where on the ground they're looking. The laser, which can measure distances with six-inch accuracy, tells them the relative heights of various parts of the canopy, creating a three-dimensional image. The spectrometer can be used to distinguish individual plant species from each other—a koa tree has a distinctly different light signature from an 'olapa, for example.

By assessing the forest while flying over it, vast regions can be cataloged quickly. And preliminary results—comparing the aerial imagery with information gathered by foresters trudging through the woods on the ground—show that it works.

"These findings showed airborne data correlated with data derived from study plots on the ground," said Forest Service ecologist and paper co-author Flint Hughes, of the service's Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry.

The researchers did more than just mapping. Their work was able to show that areas dominated by alien plant invaders had different amounts of biomass than those that were primarily native—and that a native forest is better at sucking up and storing carbon dioxide than an alien-dominated one.

"Our results clearly show the interactive role that climate and invasive species play on carbon stocks in tropical forests, and this may prove useful in projecting future changes in carbon sequestration in Hawaii and beyond," said co-author Gregory Asner, of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.

For the research leading to the paper, the researchers flew their aerial observatory over Mauna Kea's northeast flank, covering the Hawai'i Experimental Tropical Forest, a site that is a candidate of the National Science Foundation for designation as a part of the National Ecological Observatory Network.

The work observed the diameter of trees, the height of the canopy and allowed calculations of the biomass present in the forest. In a press release, the authors said that “study results suggest fast-growing invaders decrease biomass levels, while slower-growing species increase biomass stocks.”

The Nature Conservancy is using similar technology on Kaua'i, working with Dana Slaymaker of Resource Mapping Hawai'i to collect detailed imagery from aircraft of the Alaka'i region. One key difference between the two systems is the kind of spectral data collected, and its level of detail.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama inaugural quotes

“ We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil,”--President Barack Obama.

(This is the new president's official photograph, which you'll soon see on federal office building walls, on official documents and elsewhere. By new White House photographer Pete Souza.)

From the perspective of the RaisingIslands site, here are some key quotations from President Barack Obama's inaugural address.

“...each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

"With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet."

“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

“Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

“This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

“...we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.”

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Garden center is Hawai'i's latest LEED green building

The National Tropical Botanical Garden's new building, which houses its library, herbarium and research areas, is now certifiably the greenest building on Kaua'i, and one of the most environmentally sensitive in the state.

(Images: Botanical Research Center photo by Jon Letman, NTBG. The LEED Gold logo is owned by the U.S. Green Building Council.)

The garden's Botanical Research Center has been granted LEED Gold certification, the first Kaua'i structure to receive any rating under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

The building was designed and built to achieve the LEED standard. It stores rainwater from its roof, has a photovoltaic system, includes natural lighting to reduce the need for electric lights, uses reclaimed materials, has drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce irrigation needs, its walkways are permeable concrete to reduce storm runoff, and there's even an electric car recharging station.

“LEED is a whole new way of looking at construction, how we use resources and reduce associated waste. The implications go far beyond the building itself and have the potential to influence people in all spheres,” said NTBG Director and Chief Executive Officer Chipper Wichman.”

The LEED certification requires an extensive audit, and the notice of the Gold standard award comes nearly a year after the blessing for the building, which is actively in use.

The center, which will be dedicated as the Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center, was designed by architect Dean Sakamoto and built by Unlimited Construction Services, Inc.
For more information, see the garden website .

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Protection for gorgeous Hawai'i tree snails

The tree snails are Hawai'i's arboreal gems.

Gorgeous creatures, they are much more reminiscent of colorful seashells than the snails we know from the land. Their shells come in diverse patterns of ivories and whites, browns and yellows and tans.

(Images: Snail on Metrosideros leaves. Credit Melora Purell. Partulina physa on a black background. Credit: Bill Mull. More images here.)

And they are fadingly rare. Where O'ahu residents once collected bags full of the wonderfully patterned snails in forests near residential areas, most species are now extinct or rare.

The Big Island tree snail. Partulina physa, was believed gone until a small population was found at Pūpū Kani Oe on Ponoholo Ranch in Kohala. The 96-acre site gets its name from the “singing snails.” Hawaiian tree snails were believed to be the singers responsible for melodies floating through the forests.

“This is the only population in the whole world,” said Jon Giffin, The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Island field representative. “This small parcel and an adjacent parcel support the entire known population of the Pūpū kani oe tree snail.”

Ranch owner Pono von Holt has now signed a 15-year conservation agreement with The Nature Conservancy, to help protect the 'ohi'a-dwelling snails.

The Pūpū Kani Oe site is along the rim of Honokane Valley, in forested land that has been degraded by wild cattle and pigs. It lies at elevations from 3,400 to 3,800 feet, with rainfall of more than 100 inches annually.

“The area provides habitat for common native forest birds such as the ‘apapane, ‘amakihi and ‘elepaio. The Hawaiian owl, or pueo, and the endangered Hawaiian hawk, ‘io, have been seen here, while the endangered Hawaiian duck, koloa, utilizes nearby streams for feeding and resting,” The Nature Conservancy said in a press release.

“Vegetation on the parcel has been severely degraded by wild cattle and feral pigs, but the necessary forest structure (trees, shrubs, herbs and epiphytes) is in place to allow the native forest to regenerate naturally once the threats are removed,” Giffin said.

Von Holt put the land into the Kohala Watershed Partnership five years ago, and the partnership has already done some fencing and other work. However funding cuts limit how much more work can be done. The Nature Conservancy help move the protection program forward.

“We will support the partnership with any of its ongoing work. But what we are going to be doing that they are not doing is baseline biological surveys to see what native resources are up there. We are also going to draft a management plan for the 96 acres. That management plan will be centered on protection of the tree snails,” Giffin said.

Among the possible threats, beyond habitat degradation by pigs and cattle, are rats and the cannibal snail Euglandina rosea.

Von Holt said his conservation agreement makes sense not just for the singing snail, but also for the ranch iself.

“The conservation management agreement will enhance our ability to practice good land stewardship by combining Ponoholo Ranch resources with the expertise, experience, and resources of The Nature Conservancy. The restoration of native forest in the Pūpū Kani Oe parcel will benefit the watershed of the Kohala Mountain, the livestock entities that depend on it, and the community of Kohala” von Holt said.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Energy: A new Hawai'i initiative

Hardly anyone will argue that Hawai'i is in a tenuous, vulnerable situation with energy.

Just one example: There is limited fuel storage capacity in the Islands. A couple of weeks without oil tankers, and planes don't fly, cars don't drive and darkness prevails.

Even if you set aside the important environmental considerations of reliance on imported oil, there are significant statewide security risks from that reliance.

The state Legislature yesterday got an earful on how to move Hawai'i more quickly away from its fragile energy situation.

The Blue Planet Foundation ( put on its Clean Energy Policy Forum for the Legislature Monday (January 12, 2009).

One proposal: it's a serious enough issue that the state ought to transfer the state energy office, now in the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, into a stand-alone State Energy Security Office attached directly to the Governor's office. And give it funding and clout.

Blue Planet's extensive report on its energy policy proposals is at

For a detailed review, check out Doug Carlson's Hawai'i Energy Options post at

Blue Planet founder Henk Rogers, director Jeff Mikulina and a group of experts proposed an extensive list of ideas for crowbarring Hawai'i into moving more aggressively. RaisingIslands wasn't there, but from reading the reports, several ideas seemed workable and intriguing. Here are some of them.

One would establish an aggressive program to promote energy efficiency. The Blue Planet proposal would establish a carrot-and-stick provision to encourage movement in that direction. Incentives for moving faster than the goal; penalties if not.

Let consumers pay for their energy efficiency purchase and installation costs through their power bills.

Establish penalties if utilities fail to achieve renewable portfolio standards, which are deadlines to move to higher percentages of non-fossil fuel power.

“Clarify current renewable portfolio standard language to ensure that only clean, indigenous resources are counted.” On its face, this seems to say that ethanol made from Hawai'i cane and biodiesel from locally grown kukui or jatropha counts, but palm oil imported from Asia doesn't.

Just say no to any new generators that burn fossil fuels. If you're running short of generating capacity, one assumes this means, use efficiency, shift loads or spend your money on renewable power sources.

Establish state standards to promote energy efficient vehicles, like California's.

Require that if you sell gasoline, you also have air available to folks can fill up their tires and improve their fuel efficiency. (I thought this was standard, but ran into a gas station without air the other day, to my and my low tires' dismay. I don't much care whether it's free, as Blue Planet would prefer, but air ought to be available.)

Building a new road? Include a real bike lane. If you build it, they will come.

Get serious about energy storage, providing a mechanism to store some of that upcoming wind, wave, solar, ocean thermal and other energy for times when the wind's not blowing, the sun's not shining, et cetera.

There's lots more, not all of it as obviously workable as other parts.

For instance, A potential problem proposal is a $5 per barrel fee on oil, with the money to fund clean energy programs. New fees are a tough sell in miserable economic times, in spite of Blue Planet's probably spot-on assurance that “investing now would pay future dividends to every resident and business in the state.”

Blue Planet's list of experts include: Kyle Datta, founder and president, New Energy Partners; Jon Hurwitch, head of Sentech, Inc., Martin Kushler, director of the utilities program at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE); and Natalie Mims consultant, Rocky Mountain Institute Energy & Resources Team.

Having started this post talking about statewide security, we concede Blue Planet's point that it's not all about security. What do you get if you get serious about moving off oil? Says Blue Planet Foundation”

“• Recession-busting tools. Need to plug the $6 billion+ annual fossil fuel leak;

“• Create jobs. Massive job creation potential in highpaying, rewarding jobs;

“• Protect our environment. Decrease Hawaii’s annual contribution of 22 million tons of greenhouse


“• Spur high-tech economy. Make Hawaii a hub for clean energy research & development;

“• Global model. Hawaii can lead the globe in indigenous energy solutions.”

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hybrids and ecars: Build it, then improve it

If first you build it, then you can improve it.

Toyota's stunningly successful Prius took the hybrid market by storm, and Toyota's making it better by the year.

The Prius was launched with a fuel economy of 41 miles a gallon, then upgraded to 46 miles a gallon, and the company now says its newest version will sip at a rate of 50 miles to the gallon.

(Image: Top: The new Toyota Prius. Credit: Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. Bottom: The new Honda Insight. Credit: American Honda Motor Co. Inc. )

Toyota apparently got the fuel economy improvements in part with lighter parts, including an aluminum hood, removing all belts from the engine compartment (presumably reducing friction losses) and, counterintuitively, putting in a bigger engine that runs at lower RPMs on the highway.

The new car should be out around May 2009.

Meanwhile, the folks at Edmunds are already imagining a 100 mpg Prius (

Honda's benighted Insight came out a little after the Prius, and despite a whopping fuel economy figure in the 60s, it only seated two people, and never sold well.

This year, Honda plans to bring back the Insight name in a hybrid car that seats, ostensibly, five people, like the Prius. (And like the Prius, one assumes, they can't all be big people.) Its fuel economy is listed on the Honda website as 40 to 43.

To this observer, its styling looks a lot more like the Prius than the old Insight. That, one assumes, works as a combination of “don't fix what ain't broke,” and “mimickry as flattery.”

Other car companies are hanging their hats on the next auto technology, which they assume will be electric cars.

Chevy says its Volt will be out in 2010, and Chrysler says it will have some kind of an electric out in 2010 as well, but isn't yet announcing what platform it will use. Ford plans one on the road in 2011. Toyota says it will have its pure electric out in 2012. And there are others in the works.

(On a side note, Yamaha and Honda are planning electric motorcycles in 2010 and 2011 respectively.)

There are lots of electric cars available or in production now, of course, though not all in the United States. For information see this site at

You CAN order an electric car right now, and a really hot one.

Two downsides: it's hugely expensive, and there's a months-long waiting list.

It's the Tesla ecar: The last posted price was $109,000.

Here's a shot of it being safety tested on the ice in Sweden, from the Tesla website.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama-Biden stimulus plan, a target from both left and right

After spending a little time with the Obama-Biden economic stimulus package, RaisingIslands finds a number of things to appreciate.

One of the key things we appreciate is that it has attracted nitpickers from both sides of the political aisle: those who think it does too much, and those who think it doesn't do enough.

We at RaisingIslands don't want to appear to be taking sides, but Mr. Obama might take comfort in something my late editor, Sandy Zalburg, used to say more than a third of a century ago: “If both sides are yelling at you, you're probably doing something right.”

A copy of the plan, from, is here:

Here's a three-page fact sheet on the plan, from

The plan includes tax relief for individuals and business; incentives for small business; $25 billion to rebuild roads, bridges and schools; help for financially troubled homeowners; assistance for those who need to invade their IRAs and 401Ks to survive; and a whole lot more.

On the science, environment and energy front, it would help auto makers to promote more efficient vehicles and improve battery technology. It proposes to invest $150 billion over 10 years to move biofuels forward, and to promote commercialization of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

It would push to move renewable energy to a more commercial scale, to move the nation to a “digital electricity grid,” or “smart grid,” to which Hawaiian Electric recently announced it hopes soon to move.

It would establish a federal renewable energy portfolio, seeking to get the country to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, and would extend the Production Tax Credit to increase renewable energy projection.

And, yes, Obama-Biden would invest in clean coal. Actually, the term the plan uses is “low emissions coal plants.”

The Bush-Biden stimulus plan wants to ensure the workforce is trained to work in an economy with green technologies.

And it proposes to double federal spending on basic scientific research “changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history.”

The plan, of course, doesn't satisfy everyone. Over at the irreverent environmental news site Grist, correspondent Kate Sheppard complains, “Notably absent from the draft of the plan is any specific mention of funding for public transportation.” She said environmental leaders are generally supportive, but caution against more coal plants or highway projects that don't make energy sense. Start her reports at

Shucks, he didn't say much about photovoltaics either, or conservation and efficiency.

And at the conservative Heritage Foundation, you might think the Obama-Biden plan is just impossibly complicated. Heritage writers J.D. Foster and William Beach argue that to stimulate the economy, just two things are needed—extend the Bush tax cuts, and then cut taxes some more. (

“By far the most effective means of helping the economy recover is to improve the incentives that drive economic activity, and that means reducing tax rates on work, saving, investment, risk taking, and entrepreneurial activity,” they write.

That darned Obama, getting hollered at from the left, and getting hollered at from the right.

You'd think he was a centrist.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bush to announce three new marine monuments; Papahānaumokuākea gets siblings

President Bush, in a widely anticipated event, today was scheduled to announce the establishment of three new Pacific marine national monuments, to join the two-year-old Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

(Image: Bluefin trevally cruises a reef in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. James Watt photo.)

Papahānaumokuākea has been a lonely creature within the federal bureaucracy—the only marine national monument in existence, and one that conducts a constant balancing act with the three major agencies that have interests in the area: the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They operate as co-trustees.

No regulatory framework has been set up yet for the three new monuments, and while the partnerships will certainly be different, there will also be similarities.

“We will be asking the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior over the course of the next two years, in conjunction and cooperation with the governments of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the government of American Samoa, and the government of Guam to develop these management plans, and come up with shared strategies for implementing them,” said Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

For Rose Atoll, Connaughton said the Administration proposes the monument management be folded into the existing American Samoa national marine sanctuary bureaucracy, “so they'll all be under the same management regime.”

But that is something the outgoing Bush Administration will have to leave to its successor, the Obama Administration. The shape of those regulations will be driven by a Hawai'i born president who is far more familiar with oceans than Texan Bush.

The three monuments are: the Marianas Marine National Monument, whose most impressive feature is the Marianas Trench; the tiny Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, which encompasses the waters around the 15-acre atoll that's already a wildlife refuge; and the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, which will include the waters around seven specks of land or reef—Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island.

The President uses the authority of the Antiquities Act to establish the monuments, and while this act has previously been primarily used to protect historical sites, his application of the act to establish Papahānaumokuākea is his precedent.

As at Papahānaumokuākea, the waters covered extend 50 miles from land: “These areas are quite remote, so it's helpful to have a fairly large area delineated, but we didn't want to go larger than the current weight that the science supported in terms of finding conservation benefit. So as you began to go out to 100 miles or 150 miles, it just wasn't clear we would be accomplishing much more in the way of fully protecting these coral reef ecosystems and the birds that surround them that we were interested in. We may yet learn more, but there appeared to be pretty solid ground focusing on 50,” Connaughton said.

Combined, Papahānaumokuākea's 139,797 square miles, added to the 195,000 square miles of the new reserves, create by far the world's largest complex of marine protected areas.

The Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands monuments are not expected to raise much of a fuss, but the Marianas designation already has—largely among those seeking to protect fishing interests in the region.

The Bush Administration's plan is indeed to control or prohibit fishing—at least on those areas that are designated as “coral reef ecosystem,” Connaughton said.

“So with respect to the various island units, so Rose, the central islands, and the three northern islands of the Marianas. We're establishing 15 nautical conservation management areas. Inside of that area we will be prohibiting commercial fishing,” Connaughton said.

Here's what Connaughton had to say specifically about the Marianas reserve at a teleconference Monday (Jan. 5, 2009):

“This will have two main components. One of the main components will be the Marianas Trench and the long arch of submerged active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents that run along the entire Marianas Island chain. The Mariana Trench contains the deepest places on earth. The trench in its deepest point is deeper than Mount Everest is high, and it's more than 1,500 miles long and 44 miles wide. So to compare that, it's about five times longer than the Grand Canyon and several times wider.

“The active volcanoes and thermal vents, there are about 21 of them that run along the island chain, and we're talking about active volcanoes and these hot thermal emissions that come out of the surface of the -- the bottom of the sea, you know, anywhere from a thousand feet deep to 5,000 feet deep. Just to give you an example, one of the volcanoes is responsible for a sulfur pool, which is a phenomenon. The next place that occurs that we know of is on the moon of Io off of Jupiter. The thermal vents produce heat from the core of the earth, produce heat that boils the water to very, very high temperatures, and also makes the water highly acidic. In one place, the water is a pH of one. And yet in this very, very harsh environment, you have thriving, living resources -- something we want to learn a lot more about.

“The other major feature of the Marianas Marine National Monument will be the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the three northernmost islands of the chain. These ecosystems are home to more than 300 species of stony corals and they have some of the highest fish abundance and fish diversity in the entire Marianas Islands chain -- it's about 14 islands.

“In this setting, all of the resources that we're identifying will be fully protected. With respect to the coral reef ecosystem, this will include prohibitions on commercial fishing.”

International shipping will be permitted to travel through the monument waters largely as it does now.

Reporters asked Connaughton about the implications of the designations on military activities, and he said military use of the waters would be largely unhampered.

“In fact, I want to underline we actually welcome the presence of the military in and around the monument, because they will be some of our best eyes and ears as to what's going on with the resource. These are very, very remote places. And as we, for example, build up the military in Guam, there will be opportunities for military personnel to actually learn more about the resource and help understand global awareness of the resource. And as well, the military will be flying their missions, and sailing their ships, and running their submarines in and around these areas,” Connaughton said.

Here is the text of a teleconference Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, by Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality:

Here is the Aug. 25, 2008 powerpoint from the White House, introducing the idea of the establishment of the new Pacific monuments:

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hawai'i 2009 highest tides January 10--roll up your trousers

The highest tides of 2009 for Hawai'i are just a week away as this is written, and people near the shore should be alert.

From January 9 to 11, the highest tides, a few hours before dawn, will be 2.6 feet or higher in Honolulu, with the peak on the 10th.

Depending on where you are in Hawai'i, the peak may be a little higher or lower, and a little earlier or later, but generally, folks will see a remarkably high high waterline when they get up on the 10th.

It means, of course, flooding in Mapunapuna, docks under water at Nawiliwili, beaches razor thin or gone entirely, and all the other features associated with the highest water.

What isn't entirely clear is what other factors will be driving that water even higher or lower.

That's because tides operate on top of the regional sea level, that can change due to a number of factors.

During certain climate events, like El Nino periods and strong low pressure systems, the base water level can be higher than normal. Warm water expands and can create regional high sea levels. There are oceanic gyres that can cause vast regions of the ocean to form a kind of hump. High tides atop these can drive water farther inland than normal.

Strong waves atop high tides can also push flooding waters inland.

Chip Fletcher, the coastal geologist at the University of Hawai'i's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said he's not sure how severe the early January tides will be.

“Any swell that accompanies them will be a problem, but cool water this time of year should ameliorate a bit,” he wrote in an email.

And all these features—tides, gyres, storms and the rest—operate atop the base sea level, which for the last century has been rising.

Sea levels have risen twice as much at Hilo than at Kaua'i and O'ahu. That is explained by the geological phenomenon in which the great weight of the young Big Island is actually pushing down on the Earth's mantle, causing the island to sink. The sinking is over for the severely eroded older islands.

The difference in sea levels ranges from about half a foot of rise on the older islands to a foot on the youngest, over the past century. For graphical views of measured sea level changes at various locations in Hawai'i, see the NOAA Tides & Currents site at

The sea level trend seems inescapable, and all indications are that seas will continue to rise, and perhaps faster than before (see previous post at

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sea level threat worsens; Will Hawai'i respond?

A pulse of rapid sea level rise is possible during the coming decades—an eventuality that could devastate both Hawai'i's economy and its environment.

A new scientific report issued by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program suggests that abrupt climate change could occur during this century—and that it could happen faster than society's ability to respond.

(Image: Cover of the Abrupt Climate Change report.)

The report has severe implications for Hawai'i, but has received no press coverage in the Islands.
And the island state of Hawai'i, which launched no high-level coordinated statewide emergency planning effort when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier predicted potentially catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades, has remained incomprehensibly but consistently silent.

The latest study suggests that the IPCC estimates of sea level rise—as much as two feet above current levels—are too conservative.

This U.S. government study, which was submitted to Congress just before Christmas, is the most up-to-date reflection of the latest available climate science.

It has a number of significant subject areas, but for Hawai'i, among the most significant features are its concerns regarding the rapid change in glaciers and ice sheets, and resulting rapid rise in sea levels.

The report defines abrupt climate change this way: “A large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.”

The report says that the latest evidence is that the ice is melting far faster than current climate models anticipate:

“Recent rapid changes at the edges of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets show acceleration of flow and thinning, with the velocity of some glaciers increasing more than twofold. Glacier accelerations causing this imbalance have been related to enhanced surface meltwater production penetrating to the bed to lubricate glacier motion, and to ice-shelf removal, ice-front retreat, and glacier ungrounding that reduce resistance to flow. The present generation of models does not capture these processes.”

While oceanic ice like that around the North Pole can melt without raising sea levels (just as a glass of water with ice doesn't overflow as the ice melts), the mass melting of ice sheets on land do raise sea levels, since they add water to the oceans.

The last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4) did not estimate ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica, saying the science at the time was not adequate to make those estimates. The latest study does the calculations based on new science, and it finds that glaciers in both locations are shedding water at an accelerating rate.

“Although no ice-sheet model is currently capable of capturing the glacier speedups in Antarctica or Greenland that have been observed over the last decade, including these processes in models will very likely show that IPCC AR4 projected sea level rises for the end of the 21st century are too low,” the report says.

The IPCC report anticipated sea level rise of half a foot to two feet by the end of the century. At those levels, it predicted the impact for small islands:

“Sea level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities.”

The Abrupt Climate Change report said that in previous periods of loss of glaciers, sea levels have risen at a rate of 1 to 2 inches a year. In recent decades, sea levels have been rising at just an inch or so a decade.

It calls for more scientific work on ice sheets so that actual sea level rise can be more accurately predicted.

The document was released Dec. 15, 2008, by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program at the USGS, under the title, “Abrupt Climate Change. A report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research.”

It is a report to Congress, and it has been endorsed by the Bush Administration's secretaries of Commerce and Energy and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Its lead authors are Peter Clark of Oregon State's Department of Geosciences and Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences. Contributing authors include Edward Brook of Oregon State's Department of Geosciences, Edward Cook of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, Thomas Delworth of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Conrad Steffen of the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The report in its entirety is available here:

A USGS press release on the report is available here:

See the U.S. Climate Change Science Program at

The program, its website says, “integrates federal research on climate and global change, as sponsored by thirteen federal agencies and overseen by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget.”

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is here:

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate