Aloha from Hawaii,

At 4:30pm on Wednesday July 9th I met with Dr. Barnes to conduct Lidar research at MLO.  Dr. Barnes is one of the only Scientists at the MLO NOAA station to receive a patent for the instrument he created to conduct his research about aerosols in the atmosphere.

What Dr. Barnes laser is capable of doing is shining up into the night sky, and collects data about the concentration of aerosol particles in the atmosphere from the 11,000 feet at the MLO research station, all the way up to 120,000 feet, where the atmosphere begins to transition into outer space.  His laser can collect an entire column worth of information that will tell him what is in the air.

The laser illuminates the air for thousands of vertical feet, and there is another instrument that analyzes the reflected light.  Depending upon the wavelength of the light that is reflected, Dr. Barnes can delineate between what specific aerosols are present in the atmosphere, and having a record of this is important to understand what is happening over time with aerosols. 



Aloha from Hawaii,

On Sunday July 6th at 4:00pm I headed for the summit of Mauna Kea to get some high quality sunset and starlight photos, and was only 50% successful.

Due to the overhead Cirrus cloud formation, viewing the Milky Way and the night sky was not possible.  It is frustrating to have traveled 5,000 miles to Hawaii and this is one of the sights I had my heart set on viewing, and the weather is not cooperating.  Fortunately the sunset from Mauna Kea is breathtaking and I snapped numerous quality photos.

One side effect of spending prolonged periods of time at 14,000 feet is a severe headache due to the lack of oxygen.  Since every breath is only taking in approximately 61% of the oxygen one receives at Sea Level, your body undergoes oxygen starvation.  In addition to being lightheaded, tingles in your fingertips, and the potential for cerebral and pulmonary edema, the headache can be excruciating.

After taking sunset photos and holding out hope for a clear view of the Milky Way for almost two hours, I was approached by a friendly scientist from the Mauna Kea visitors center.  He advised that I go down to the visitors center (which is at 9,000 feet) to regulate my oxygen intake.  I took his advice, and was pleasantly surprised to experience my headache disappear once my body responded to the increase in oxygen.



Aloha from Hawaii,

At 9:30am Tuesday July 8th I visited the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument(PMNM) in downtown Hilo.  The visitors center for the PMNM was pretty amazing and informative, and it is hard to believe that right in downtown Hilo, next to restaurants and shops is this great resource to explore for FREE!

The PMNM is astonishing, and something to be proud of when politicians actually listen to scientists and do the right thing for nature.  It is a marine reserve that stretches for over 1500 miles in the pacific ocean from the edge of Hawaii all the way to Midway Island.  The PMNM is similar to a National Park, except it is on the ocean, and humans are forbidden from fishing, hunting, and even staying in the area.  It is a way to preserve nature the way it was meant to be, without any human intervention.

The reserve helps to maintain the rich biodiversity of both ocean and land going organisms in the pacific area, and the monument does a great job of informing the public about its great benefits.  It made me proud to walk around and read all of the important information and realize that almost everything I saw, was in one way shape or form covered in my Environmental Science course.  It is one thing to learn about it, but it is entirely different to see it in action.



Aloha from Hawaii,

At 8:00am Monday July 7th I left the NOAA offices with Aidan Colton, and headed for the Eastern most point in Hawaii, Cape Kumukahi.  Aidan is tasked with the important work of collecting atmospheric samples at Sea Level, which is then compared to what is collected at the Mauna Loa observatory at 11,000 feet.  The air samples are important to collect here, because it establishes a baseline comparison for the summit, and it is collecting air that has been above the Pacific ocean for thousands of miles.

Essentially Aidan is the scientist in the field for the research team at Scripps Research Institute in California.  The flask samples that Aidan collects are shipped back to California to be analyzed.  Watching Aidan prepare his flask samples reminded me of my time in graduate school when I was studying chemistry.  Each device is a large glass flask, that has been vacuum sealed, so that when the stopcock is opened, the air in the surrounding atmosphere is pulled inside.  It is this simple technique that has been in use for over 50 years, and I was excited to learn that many of the flasks are still the original ones that David Keeling was using when he began atmospheric studies in Hawaii in 1958.

Aidan surprised me with the opportunity to become part of the research record myself by collecting flask samples.  It was pretty easy not to mess up, all I had to do was turn a small valve and hold my breath.  Its funny to think that something as easy as exhaling could contaminate a flask sample and give the researchers faulty data.

The research station at Cape Kumukahi was pretty bare bones.  There is a small tower which pulls in air samples continuously from about 50 feet in the air, and several instruments in a small building to control the air flow.

One interesting aspect of the visit was the family of locals who had been camping out and living next to the research station for a few weeks.  Aidan informed us that a local Hawaiian man had been walking along the rocks of the coast looking for small shelled organisms that are harvested for food, when he never returned.  The Coast Guard and police believe he was hit by a wave and washed away and his body was never recovered.  Well this mans family was essentially living at the research station in tents, holding out hope that they may find him someday, but the odds are not looking good.



Aloha from Hawaii,

On Friday July 4th I felt it was my patriotic duty to visit a national park on our nations birthday. Happy Birthday America!  I visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses two active volcanoes.  The first is Kilauea which is one of the most active volcanoes on earth, and Mauna Loa which is the largest volcano on earth.  

After entering the park, there is a very informative directory area which explains the terrain, roads and major points of interest to visit.  The first sight to visit are the thermal vents which emit a constant flow of steam.  The one closest to the parking lot smelled of sulfur, and was filled with change that people were throwing in for good luck.  The others were set back from the road a bit and were more in a natural setting.

The main road (Crater Rim Drive) that used to form a nice loop around the park has been closed (permanently??) because an explosion occurred in the Halemaumau Crater.  This explosion was followed by an opening of a giant sulfur vent, and poisonous sulfur dioxide is spilling from this vent and closing off a good portion of the park.  Several roads and trails are now closed because of this since 2008, pretty wild.

The main attraction is the Thomas Jaggar Museum, which overlooks the caldera.  After taking several photos of the smoldering earth, I toured the inside of the museum which has several cool artifacts (from when a scientist fell into lava and lived to tell) and a ton of very thorough scientific displays.

After touring the museum we hit the road again, and headed towards the lava tube and craters. Thurston Lava Tube is about 20 feet wide and 1/3 mile long.  Walking through was pretty eerie, but cool nonetheless. This portion of the road also had several overlooks with gigantic craters that are remnants of previously active caldera's, extremely nice to see.

This pretty much sums up the park experience.

Off for the weekend.  




Aloha from Hawaii,

At 9:00am on Thursday July 3rd I visited the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens in Pāpa'ikouHawaii. Because of the Holiday, the day was open for my own science investigation so I visited the gardens to view an assortment of plant species.  As I have toured the island of Hawaii it is impossible to ignore the diversity and abundance of living species in this climate.  The sheer volume of plant species is amazing.  Since Hawaii is so isolated in the Pacific Ocean the animal species have not has as much success.  Most small animals are invasive species and it seems as if half of the potential ecosystem is missing.  Where are the predatory birds, snakes, raccoons etc...? The true source of biodiversity in Hawaii is either in the ocean or vegetation on land, the terrestrial animals are definitely lacking, but I digress...

The Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens houses over 2,000 different species of plants that are from all over the world.  There are also several large parrots housed on the property.  The views of the coast of Onomea Bay are what you expect to see in a national geographic article of a picturesque volcanic island shoreline.  It was definitely an enjoyable experience touring the 17 Acre Botanical Garden and seeing up close different species of plant life that can be grown outdoors in Hawaii's climate.  I overheard several groundskeepers discussing how to appropriately manage a newly installed tree, and the manager obviously knows how to maintain a diverse population of plants.



Aloha from Hawaii!

At 8:30am on Wednesday July 2nd, I went to the NOAA offices at Hilo International Airport to help scientists Darryl Kuniyuki and David Nardini launch a weather balloon with scientific equipment used to measure the atmosphere.  There was so much to see here, and the really cool part was how small and lightweight all of the equipment was to go up in the weather balloon.

Inside the balloon launch facilities, Darryl was filling the weather balloon with hydrogen.  I know how flammable hydrogen can be so I asked Darryl why that over helium, and he informed me that helium was just far too expensive for the amount they use.  Additionally I surveyed their equipment and learned that they produce their own hydrogen by electrolyzing water, and capturing the hydrogen produced. 

Next, I visited with David as he prepared the weather equipment inside of a small styrofoam container. There was a miniature air-pump that sucked in the air from the atmosphere into each one of the recording devices.  Everything from humidity, temperature, pressure, and altitude were measured. The coolest experiment on the weather balloon was the ozonesonde.  Essentially air was pumped into a solution of Potassium Iodide (KI) and the ozone will react with the solution producing a weak electrical signal.  This information is then transmitted along with the rest of the tests via radio signal back to Davids computer so he can monitor the weather balloon.

The balloon will travel up to 35km high (18.6 miles or roughly 100,000 feet) (Felix Baumgartner anyone!!!) before it bursts and the instruments fall back to earth with a parachute.

I assisted both David and Darryl in launching the balloon, and discovered that they rarely get the instruments back.  Oftentimes after the instruments descend, they fall into the ocean, or the deep regions of the jungle on the island.  However, if someone were to come across one of the instruments on the ground, they receive a $50 reward from NOAA for returning the equipment.

We watched on Davids computer as the balloon traveled upward, and it takes roughly 80 minutes for the balloon to travel to 35km, and then another 45 minutes to return to earth.  This launch went off flawlessly, and the information gathered was exactly what the scientists in Boulder, CO wanted to see.

Well thats all for today.




Aloha from Hawaii!

At 8:30am Tuesday July 1st, I met with Dr. John Barnes and his colleague from Central Connecticut State University, Dr. Nimmi Chandra Parikh Sharma to embark upon a journey to the Mauna Kea Observatory. Dr. Barnes had arranged tours of both the Gemini Space Telescope and the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array at the summit.

The journey to Mauna Kea was on the same "Saddle Road" was similar to yesterday, but the landscape of Mauna Kea was much different.  John explained how Mauna Kea hasn't been active in hundreds of thousands of years so vegetation had a chance to take hold.  The landscape was covered green in grass, and small shrubs.  

We first stopped at the Onizuka Visitors Center at 9,200 feet to get acclimated with the elevation.  This center was named after the Hawaiian Astronaut Ellison Onizuka who was one of the NASA astronauts who passed away during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.  Here we also met with Joy Pollard who would serve as our tour guide of the Gemini telescope.  Joy walked us through all of the precautions that come with going to an altitude of 13,800 feet.  The side effects of altitude sickness can be pretty scary, especially when she informed us of the chance of suffering from Cerebral and Pulmonary edema!!!! (What was I getting myself into????)

After our safety briefing, we drove up the final 4000 feet to the summit, and I was a bit nervous.  As we got to approximately 12000 feet, I started to feel the side effects.  It felt as if someone was pushing on my chest, I was having a hard time breathing, I started to feel really light headed, and my fingers started to tingle.  I was suffering from altitude sickness and I hadn't even gotten out of the car yet! Thankfully at the summit, once I walked around a bit I began to feel a bit better.  Also, Joy informed us that she would check our oxygen intake like they do at the doctors office, and oxygen tanks would be available to anyone who needed them.

It is important to note that the summit of Mauna Kea is without a doubt the most amazing view I have ever seen in my entire life.  Besides being the highest elevation I have been to, the view was breathtaking.  Looking out at the clouds below you, and Maui in the distance out over the pacific ocean is something I will never forget.

We went inside the Gemini telescope and received a VIP tour of the facilities.  Everything from the control room, the mirror maintenance equipment and the interior of the telescope itself was part of the tour.  There is a tremendous amount of equipment that goes into running an 8 meter wide mirror, and it was awesome to see.

After touring Gemini, we drove down a few hundred feet to the Smithsonian Array and received a tour of the facilities.  This telescope was actually a combination of eight satellite dishes that look for radio-waves coming from newly formed stars in our galaxy.  They have the capability of analyzing the chemical composition of the dust clouds based off of the signal they receive.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Well, that pretty much sums up the visit to Mauna Kea.




Aloha from Hawaii!

At 7:30am Monday June 30th, I met with NOAA Scientist Dr. John Barnes at the NOAA offices in Hilo, HI. After going over basic preparations I jumped in the Chevy Tahoe with Paul Fukumura and Nash Kobayashi to drive to the Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO).  Paul is an electrical engineer, and Nash is a mechanical engineer and their duties are to troubleshoot and maintain all of the scientific equipment at MLO.  The NOAA offices in Boulder, Colorado are where the majority of the scientific data analysis takes place, so it is important that the equipment is functioning correctly at all times.

We drove up the "Saddle Road" which is a highway over lava fields between two Volcanoes on the big island. After some research I was interested to learn that the Mauna Loa volcano is the largest volcano on earth, and that the Mauna Kea volcano is the tallest volcano on earth, pretty amazing that I am visiting both!

The landscape of Mauna Loa is fairly barren, just lava fields of black rock with very sparse vegetation. It is remarkable to see how relentless mother nature is, where plants will take root and grow in the smallest crevice.  The color of the landscape changes depending upon how old the rock is.  The darker the rock, the newer it is, and the surface of Mauna Loa is a palette of earth tones.  Mauna Loa is still an active volcano and last erupted in 1984, and Paul and Nash told me it is long overdue for its next eruption!

As we approached the observatory at 11,141 feet, it was a bit chilly.  I think we were the only people in Hawaii wearing winter jackets as we toured the research facility.  We were greeted by renowned author and citizen scientist Forrest Mims, who gave me a personal tour of the observatory.  Forrest was a wealth of information as he thoroughly explained what each instrument was used for and provided a historic account of the scientists who have worked at MLO since its inception in 1956.

I believe MLO's most famous experiment is the continuous monitoring of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which was started by Dr. Chales David Keeling in 1958, also known as the "Keeling Curve". Forrest was kind enough to show us the original equipment that Dr. Keeling used which was only decommissioned a few years ago.

Later in the day I worked with Paul and Nash as they fixed the atmospheric monitoring equipment. There was an air pump on one of the ozone monitoring machines that needed to be fixed, and a device on the roof of one of the buildings that needed some attention.  

Overall it was an amazing day visiting the MLO.  I spent a good deal of time researching the different experiments that are ongoing at the observatory, and how to include these into the Environmental Science curriculum at BLS.




Aloha from Hawaii!

I apologize for not writing as soon as I arrived.  The battery died on my computer, and the wifi at my hotel has been non-existent.  I am sitting in a Starbucks in downtown Hilo writing these entries.

After traveling for almost 16 hours from Boston to LA, LA to Honolulu, and then Honolulu to Hilo needless to say I was exhausted.  Also, it took almost two full days to overcome the jet lag and the 6 hour time difference, but I am so excited to be here.

I am staying in Hilo Bay, on the Eastern side of the big Island of Hawaii.  I was interested to learn that Hilo is the wettest city in the US, so it rains here often.  Usually the rain comes and goes so there is plenty of time to go outside and enjoy the warm temperature.

Besides the climate, the most obvious difference between Hilo and Boston is the flora and fauna. Hawaii is in a subtropic climate and with the abundant rainfall it seems as if there is no limit to the size the vegetation can grow.  The palm trees line the coast, while a small journey inland you will find the jungle. The hotel I am staying in is on Banyan Drive, which is line with these enormous Banyan trees, nothing like this grows back home.

Additionally, the wildlife here is much different.  The birds are plentiful and very colorful, salamanders and other lizards can be seen everywhere, and the coqui frogs serenade you at night.  I was also very surprised to learn that many of the common animals on Hawaii are invasive species. The coqui frogs came from Puerto Rico, the Mynah birds are from Asia, and the Indian Mongoose (looks like a squirrel/ferret hybrid) are all from other locations across the globe.

Over the first weekend here I had time to do some sightseeing and visited two breathtaking waterfalls. Akaka Falls is 422 feet high, and when the sun is shining a constant rainbow can be seen in the water spray at the base.  

Rainbow falls is 80 feet high and almost 100 feet in diameter and flows over a natural lava cave. After hiking up over the falls, there was a large natural pool of water with steep cliffs surrounding it. I noticed several local Hawaiians cliff diving, and decided to join them.  I jumped off a cliff approximately 30 feet high, and it was one of the scariest yet exciting moments of my life. Carpe Diem!

Well, now its off to conduct some scientific research at the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea Observatories.