Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The pinnacle of Hawai'i folding maps, by Environmental Designs

There are maps and then there are Rob Siemers maps.

Siemers, a Kaua'i cartographer, through his company Environmental Designs has now produced remarkable guides to four islands, Hawai'i, Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i. The O'ahu guide is the most recent, published a couple of months ago. The Maui guide is about to be redesigned and reprinted.

Maps they hand you at rental car companies, and even many of the ones you might buy in a store, tend to be flimsy things with simple roadmaps surrounded by advertisements.

No ads in Siemers publications. Instead, they're packed with information-rich graphics. He markets them as both maps and atlases.

“It's an educational guide. A whole different flavor from what you find anywhere else...a compilation of a lot of information from all over,” Siemers said.

As an example, the Big Island map works as an excellent road map, with zoomed boxes for the detailed transportation systems at Hilo, Hualalai resorts, Waikoloa, Kawaihae, Waimea, Kailua-Kona and the Kailua-Keauhou corridor.

But there are also maps of trails, and bits of information on the culture and history of the island, including important Hawaiian cultural sites and the locations of the old sugar mills.

There's a color map on geology, showing the several volcanoes that formed Hawai'i Island, when they were active, and what they have contributed to the shape of modern Hawai'i. And there is a section on climate, with data on rainfall, wind, ocean swell patterns and more.

There is a nice section translating place names, and of course, the place names are rendered with the appropriate diacritical markings.

The “O'ahu Island Atlas and Maps” includes special boxes on Pearl Harbor and Hanauma Bay. Several of the boxes of information include references, so you can conduct independent study.

Siemers, with degrees in both physical geography and environmental conservation, has the education and skills to do it alone, but it doesn't hurt that his father is the noted island geologist and educator Chuck Blay.

The map/atlases retail for around $7 and are available at Borders stores statewide, as well as museums, national parks and monuments, and literary outlets like Native Books, BookEnds and Basically Books.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nutrients go deep, sunlight stays shallow, so how do oceanic algae feed?

An ongoing mystery of the oceans is how marine algae manage to be very productive when the sunshine they need for photosynthesis is only near the surface and the nitrate nutrients they require are in the deep ocean.

A group of scientists working off Hawai'i believes it has a clue—it involves traveling plants and swirling deep ocean currents.

(Image: Microscopic algae may move between the sunlit surface waters where they can conduct photosynthesis, to deeper waters where they can pick up essential nutrients. Image: Kim Fulton-Bennett © 2010 MBARI)

The subject is important for several reasons, among them that the algae are at or near the bottom of the ocean food chain and thus are important to ocean productivity, and also that they lock up a lot of the carbon dioxide in the surface oceans, which has climate change implications.

“It is not understood how biologically mediated (dissolved inorganic carbon) uptake can be supported in the absence of nutrients,” write researchers Kenneth Johnson, Stephen Riser and David Karl, in a paper in Nature.

Johnson is with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Riser with the University of Washington School of Oceanography, and Karl with the University of Hawai'i's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Here's what a news release on the subject says: “The sea around Hawaii may be clear and blue, but it hides an enduring oceanographic mystery. Surface waters in this and other mid-ocean areas contain almost no nitrate or other plant nutrients. Yet each year, microscopic algae (phytoplankton) flourish in these vast, open-ocean areas. Although miniscule in size, these mid-ocean algae consume about one fifth of all the carbon dioxide taken up by plants and algae worldwide.”

Their theory on the subject is this: The deep ocean nutrients don't make it all the way to the sunlit surface ocean, and the sunshine doesn't reach deep into the ocean. But maybe they're meeting halfway, with some mechanism bringing nutrients nearly to the surface, and algae being able to dip down to the nutrient zone before returning to the photosynthesis zone.

The researchers tossed an Apex profiling float into the ocean north of Hawai'i. This drifting robot stayed at sea for 21 months, rising to the surface and dropping to 1,000 meters deep, then rising again, over and over, measuring what it found in the water as it went.

The drifter found that from January to October each year, there's an increase in oxygen levels in the upper ocean, within 100 meters of the surface. Meanwhile, there is a comparable decrease in nutrient levels—notably nitrates—in the next level down, from 100 to 250 meters down.

Something is making the oxygen and eating the nutrients at comparable rates, even though they're not in the same place. The obvious culprit here is algae, the microscopic ocean plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, and which eat nutrients like oceanic nitrates.

The scientists suggest that there are two kinds of movement taking place. First, the nutrients are being periodically carried by natural ocean circulation into the bottom layers of the sunlit zone. Second, it is already known that some algae can move through the water, some by buoyancy regulation mechanisms, and others using tiny tails called flagella to whip their ways forward. So once the nutrients are brought halfway, some of the algae themselves may be making the connection.

Here's how the scientists describe it in their paper: “We suggest that the phytoplankton present in the deep waters must be able to consume the nitrate that is transported vertically in these events. The phytoplankton must then detrain from the upwelled plumes by upward motility, perhaps through buoyancy regulation, before the water returns to depth.”

Their suggestion is not so much that algae are bobbing up and down the water column, but that perhaps dormant algae in the deep ocean rise to near the surface with the nutrients, where they can catch just enough sunlight to “wake up” and rise to the sunlit zone when the nutrient-rich water cycles back into the depths.

The researchers in coming years will be launching more drift floats in other parts of the oceans to get a better handle on the phenomena.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Earth-killer asteroids hunted from Haleakala

The little observatory at right is Earth's early warning system—our canary in the coalmine, so to speak.

(Image: The PS1 {Pan-STARRS 1} observatory atop Haleakala. Credit: Rob Ratkowski.)

One of its missions is to watch for killer asteroids—ones that could crash into the Earth with devastating effect.

Over three years or so, it is expected to locate 100,000 asteroids. If it finds one on a collision course with Earth, then there's the next problem.

What can we do about it?

Here is the response from the group led by Robert Jedicke and Richard Wainscoat: “If these are found with sufficient lead time, we may be able to nudge them out of the way.”

That raises all kinds of movie-theater fiction scenarios, but as fans of Jules Verne know, science fiction often isn't falsehood so much as a predictor of future reality.

Pan-STARRS was developed by folks at the University of Hawai's Institute for Astronomy. With a five-foot mirror and a 1,400 megapixel camera, it scans the sky looking for anything that moves against the background, or which has a significant change in brightness from night to night.

That camera (Let's see, the one you have at home has, what, 8 megapixels?) is the biggest digital camera in the world. It will take more than 500 shots per night, and the images will be processed at the Maui High Performance Computing Center.

“This telescope is on the cutting edge of technology. It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space," said Nick Kaiser, a UH astronomer and head of the Pan-STARRS project.

For more information on the project, see here. Another web site that deals with Pan-STARRS is here. And some press releases from the various project partners are here.

A telescope and camera of that kind of power, of course, has lots of applications. So in addition to looking for killer asteroids, Pan-STARRS 1 will be engaged in a number of other research projects.

It will be looking for “brown dwarfs” stellar bodies whose size falls in the region between small stars and giant planets. It will measure the motion of stars, measure astronomical distances, and look into dark matter and black holes, which are quite different despite their names.

Oh, and what does STARRS stand for? Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System.

Which raises the question, is there a term for something that is an acronym of an acronym? As in: PS1 is short for Pan-STARRS 1, a portion of which in turn is short for Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System.

Yep, it is a nested acronym.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

'Tis the season: tropical systems forming in the Eastern Pacific

Tropical cyclone systems have started forming early in the warm waters of the Eastern Pacific.

Just a couple of weeks into the 2010 hurricane season, weather forecasters have already identified three systems along the coast of Central America. At this writing, the first and second systems appear to have dissipated. The third is Tropical Storm Blas

(Image: Tropical Storm Blas at 5 a.m. June 17. Credit: National Weather Service.)

None has appeared in the Central Pacific, which is the piece of ocean inhabited by the Hawaiian Islands. But many of our hurricanes start off as tropical systems in the Eastern Pacific.

We won't be covering these on a daily basis at, although you can do so here. Rather, this is an alert that the season is upon us, and it's a good time for residents of the Islands to be sure they have their preliminary hurricane season ducks in a row.

A key piece of this preparedness is to have a preliminary discussion with family and co-workers about what will happen if a hurricane approaches. What are you employers' requirements. Does your family have safe shelter, are you in an evacuation zone, do you have a designated rendezvous point in case you're separated, and do you have an agreed-upon person outside your island to call in case of a severe disruption.

Also, do you have a family disaster kit? Now is a good time to prepare one, or to check the status of the one you have. Details can be found on the Web or in the disaster preparedness guide in almost any telephone book. It will include food, water, flashlight, battery radio, your family's medications, pet supplies, personal hygiene supplies, first aid gear, and so on. It should also include a list of important telephone numbers, email addresses and so forth.

As for Tropical Storm Blas, current projections have it dying out within the week. But there will be more as time goes on, and some will be more forceful. Some may move into Hawaiian waters.

Hurricanes are heat engines, and the water temperatures around Hawai'i are now not warm enough to support an active hurricane—but as the summer progresses they will be.

In the words of the Boy Scout motto, be prepared.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eyeing coral spawn

This week, corals are spawning all over Hawai'i, but where do those drifting coral larvae go?

This year, someone is watching.

(Image: This digital photo shows the release of larvae from reef-building corals off Maui. Credit: John Gorman, 2003, Maui Ocean Center.)

Corals spawn very predictably, and the rice corals (genus Montipora) are doing their thing during the second week of June.

This year, as the eggs and larvae are released into the water column, satellite tracking devices will accompany them on their travels.

The idea is to help find out why some reefs are growing well and some not. It may have to do with how well or how predictably new coral larvae settle back on those reefs, to replace old, dying corals.

The satellite tracking effort is a joint project of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Hawai'i Kewalo Marine Laboratory and the conservation group Malama Maunalua. They will release satellite drifters that presumably will drift along the same ocean routes that the coral larvae do.

One question: when corals spawn on south O'ahu's Maunalua Bay, do they stay in Maunalua Bay or do they drift away to populate other reefs?

“Once scientists understand the circulation, larval dispersal patterns, and 'connectivity' between reefs, managers can identify where recovery efforts should be focused,” said a news release from the University of Hawai'i.

The drifters are orange, about 8 inches in diameter, and there are also yellow floats that mark the location of instrument clusters. If you're swimming in the bay during the next few days, watch for and avoid them.

For more RaisingIslands posts on corals, see here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Our" false killer whales

A new study of false killer whales in the Pacific indicates that, well, the ones around Hawai'i are homebodies.

That is, they not only tend to hang around the Islands, but they also seem to limit their breeding to the community of false killer whales around Hawaii.

(Image: A leaping false killer whale. Credit: Robin W. Baird, Cascadia Research Collective.)

A new paper by marine researchers and geneticists looks into genetic tests taken of whales around the world, but primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It found there's a group of whales, related to each other, that seem to be regularly found around Hawai'i.

Oddly, false killer whales found in Hawai'i waters can include representatives of both this local population of whales, and the larger population of Pacific and Indian Ocean whales.

For humans, the local and wide-area whales can be told apart, so far, only by genetics.

But they clearly can tell each other apart.

“Hawai‘i insular false killer whales have both a low estimated current abundance and strong social structure , though details of the mating system remain unknown,” says the paper, which was published in May 2010.

This research builds on previous work, but is hardly the end of the story.

“Given that false killer whales are a naturally uncommon species, many decades will likely be needed to collect samples that adequately represent their distribution,” the paper says.

Once concern is that a population of only a few dozen whales may be genetically at risk. It is not clear whether the group occasionally allows a non-local whale to join the gene pool.

“We estimate that the effective population size of Hawai‘i insular false killer whales is less than 50 animals. This population is probably naturally small with a strong social structure that limits genetic diversity,” the paper says.

“Although no data are available for calculating trends in abundance for Hawai‘i insular false killer whales, observational data suggest abundance may have declined precipitously over the last two decades,” it says.

Among the things unclear in false killer whale research is whether other island or coastal areas have similar distinct populations of the animals. It does happen regularly with other marine mammals.

“There are several other examples of cetaceans that have morphologically and genetically differentiated units occupying adjacent coastal or island habitats and pelagic habitats. These include coastal or island populations of pantropical spotted dolphin, common and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphin, and short-finned pilot whale. Knowledge about false killer whales occupying other island and coastal habitats around the world would be valuable to interpreting the results presented here,” the paper says.

The study is entitled “Evidence of Genetic Differentiation for Hawai'i Insular False Killer Whales (Pseudorca crassidens).”

Authors are Susan J. Chivers, Robin W. Baird, Karen M. Martien, Barbara L. Taylor, Eric Archer, Antoinette M. Gorgone, Brittany L. Hancock, Nicole M. Hedrick, David Matilla, Daniel J. McSweeney, Erin M. Oleson, Carol L. Palmer, Victoria Pease, Kelly M. Robertson, Jooke Robbins, Juan Carlos Salinas, Gregory S. Schorr, Mark Schultz, Janet L. Thieleking and Daniel L. Webster. They include representatives of government and private institutions from Hawai'i, the Mainland, Australia and Mexico.

Also see some of our previous posts on this topic here and here and here.

For more articles, use the search feature at the top of the page.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Honouliuli native dryland forest protected

Virtually nobody in Hawaii knows what a lowland native forest in Hawai'i looks like.

The old low forests are mostly gone, destroyed on every island by agriculture, fire, cattle grazing, invasive species and urban development.

(Image: The Honouliuli Forest Reserve. Credit: Phil Spalding III, The Nature Conservancy.)

Only remnants survive, and these are not intact. They contain little of the original diversity, not only of plants, but also of grazing land birds, flitting forest birds and soaring predatory birds, the ivory and umber and chocolate swirls of the tree snails and all the rest.

But what's left is unlike anything else in Hawai'i, and precious.

The community in March gained a prize that was formally dedicated this morning (June 2, 2010): the transfer of 3,592 acres of Honouliuli to government protection.

This lowland forest was purchased from the James Campbell Company by the Trust for Public Land. It has been operated since 2000 by The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i, and now has been conveyed to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife. It will be managed as a forest reserve.

Also set aside is a $345,000 endowment to help pay for its management, along with other commitments to help cover the cost of its care.

The acreage still contains some native birds, including the endangered O'ahu 'elepaio, some of the native tree snails, as well as a couple of dozen endangered plant species.

For the larger community, in addition to being a crucible of rare species, it is a watershed, whose careful management will ensure continued recharge of the Pearl Harbor Aquifer.

Preserving the land and passing it on for perpetual conservation management is a community project, which involved many agencies and individuals, a complex financing scheme. A fact sheet issued as part of today's dedication included this information:

“Creative financing measures facilitated the sale. The Edmund C. Olson Trust provided $4 million of capital for six months to secure the Preserve from being sold on the private market. In the meantime, the Trust for Public Land raised $4.3 million in acquisition funding from three different sources:$2,689,234 from the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program; $627,809 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Recovery Land Acquisition Program; $982,956 from the Hawai‘i Legacy Land Conservation Fund.

“TPL then bought the land in September 2009 from the James Campbell Company LLC, and through a loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, gave the State of Hawai‘i another six months to finish the project. TPL deeded the land to State in March 2010.

“According to Lea Hong, TPL’s Hawaiian Islands Program Director, 'This was a good financial deal for the State. For less than $1 million in State taxpayer dollars, the people of Hawai‘i got land with an appraised fair market value of $4.3 million thanks to the federal money obtained by our federal Congressional delegation,'she said.

“A public-private partnership is supporting the State's stewardship of the Reserve. The U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i will continue to invest more than $500,000 per year to help the state protect the endangered and threatened species in the Reserve.

“In addition, a $345,000 stewardship endowment has been established at the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. The endowment includes a $295,000 donation by The Nature Conservancy, a $25,000 donation by the Gill Family Trusts, and a $25,000 donation by the Edmund C. Olson Trust.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Honolulu Advertiser, thanks for the memories

The newspaper where I spent a career as a reporter is about to disappear.

Something will rise from these ashes, but unlike a phoenix, it won't be the same. The new Star-Advertiser will be a hybrid, maybe even better, but certainly not the same. For one thing, most of the people will be different. The community memory largely gone.

There is a poignancy for me in the paper's closing. Some of the most memorable events of my life came as a direct result of working at The 'Tiser.

I once lit a cigarette off a boulder that rolled off the front of an 'a'a lava flow above Kalapana.

Held the pectoral fins of an eight-foot Galapagos shark as researchers attached a satellite tag, and the beast turned its head to snap at mine.

Steered the voyaging canoe Hokule'a up and down mammoth open ocean swells south of Mokumanamana.

Sat with a cocaine-snorting commercial fishing boat captain as he explained how he stayed awake when the fish were biting.

Smelled the blood of human beings killed in various accidents and intentional events.

Chased goats with Maui Mayor Elmer Cravalho and Lt. Gov. Tom Gill across Kahoolawe, as military escorts stood frozen with fear of losing one of them to unexploded ordnance.

Waited with protesters while officers with riot guns approached.

Watched black pigs and white sheep running in a single herd on Niihau.

Blistered the paint under an airplane's wings while viewing a 1970s fountaining eruption of Kilauea.

Strapped on three syringes of atropine while inspecting chemical weapons destruction facilities at Johnston Atoll—to be jammed into a thigh in case of a nerve gas leak.

Recoiled at the grease spot on the ground where an air crash victim's body had burned.

Drifted weightless in the cabin of a diving Hawaiian Air jet on a test flight.

Held up a wooden chair to protect my head from flying debris while trying for a photo during Hurricane Iwa. (Never got that shot.)

Those kinds of events punctuated the bread and butter of civic journalism: endless hours sitting in government meetings, poring over documents, challenging public officials, writing and rewriting. And most of the time, I worked alongside or was supported by a strong journalism team. My own 37 years at The Advertiser represent just a quarter of the paper's 154-year life. But all considered, it was the most eventful time of mine.

The Advertiser, eventually, wasn't an institution so much as a bunch of people working with common purpose. That's why folks are talking about the death of the paper. The name may go on, but the brothers and sisters are mostly being disbanded.

They were The Advertiser to me. Jim, Sandy, Jane, Twigg, George, Buck, Pat, Mike, Anne, Doug, Peter, David, Barbara, Wade, Martha, Gerry, Jerry, Helen, David, Elizabeth, Mark, Sandee, oh shucks, Adam, 'Nando, Greg, John, Birch, Ron, Ken, Leslie, Rick, Marsha, Robert. Some alive, some gone. These and more, the names keep flowing.

To all of them, to all of you, thanks for the memories.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010