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.

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