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Mauna Loa Observatory

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 pallete 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.


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