Tuesday
Sep162014

LIDAR studies with Dr. Barnes at Mauna Loa Observatory

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 deliniate 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. 

 

Tuesday
Sep162014

Mauna Kea Observatory Visit number Two

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 excrutiating.

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.

 

 

Tuesday
Sep162014

PAPAHĀNAUMOKUĀKEA MARINE NATIONAL MONUMENT

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.

Tuesday
Sep162014

Climate Studies at Cape Kumukahi

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.

Tuesday
Sep162014

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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 Loawhich 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 occured in the Halemaumau Crater.  This explosion was follwed 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.