TREX 2019: The Mission to Ascend Mauna Kea

January 22nd, 2019TREX 2019

By Peter Duff '20 On our sixth day on the island, we had a singular mission; ascend Mauna Kea, and do so in one piece. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, stretching ear-popping 13800 feet into the sky, making it the highest point in the state. Its peak is sacred for the native peoples of Hawaii – and well above most clouds, an ideal location for telescopes. A small path in the foothills. We rose early to rent 4-wheel-drive vehicles for the journey up the slopes, as our minivans weren’t going to cut it. We drove an hour to the visitor’s center, already some 9000 feet above sea level, where we rested for an hour to acclimate to the altitude. Many of us already felt a little light-headed, and it would be much worse at the summit. The visitor’s center, from a nearby hill. After a quick lunch, we sat for a talk by Simon Radford, Director of Hawaii Operations for the Submillimeter Array, a massive radio telescope consisting of 8 separate 20-foot radio telescopes; the signal is then integrated by a massive computer with a Fourier transform to produce useful images. He explained to us as best he could (with our limited knowledge of radio telescopes!) how the telescope works, and its importance to astronomy. One of the 8 telescopes making up the SMA. After his talk, we locked the vehicles into 4-wheel-drive and started the final 5000-foot ascent up a winding dirt road. We tumbled out of the [...]

By Peter Duff ’20

On our sixth day on the island, we had a singular mission; ascend Mauna Kea, and do so in one piece. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, stretching ear-popping 13800 feet into the sky, making it the highest point in the state. Its peak is sacred for the native peoples of Hawaii – and well above most clouds, an ideal location for telescopes.

A small path in the foothills.

We rose early to rent 4-wheel-drive vehicles for the journey up the slopes, as our minivans weren’t going to cut it. We drove an hour to the visitor’s center, already some 9000 feet above sea level, where we rested for an hour to acclimate to the altitude. Many of us already felt a little light-headed, and it would be much worse at the summit.

The visitor’s center, from a nearby hill.

After a quick lunch, we sat for a talk by Simon Radford, Director of Hawaii Operations for the Submillimeter Array, a massive radio telescope consisting of 8 separate 20-foot radio telescopes; the signal is then integrated by a massive computer with a Fourier transform to produce useful images. He explained to us as best he could (with our limited knowledge of radio telescopes!) how the telescope works, and its importance to astronomy.

One of the 8 telescopes making up the SMA.

After his talk, we locked the vehicles into 4-wheel-drive and started the final 5000-foot ascent up a winding dirt road. We tumbled out of the vehicles next to the submillimeter array; we were all feeling the altitude by that point. Speech was harder; the words were escaping us. Mild headaches set in, along with fatigue. We endured the symptoms as best we could, while Simon and an associate gave us a tour of the SMA.

Controls for the array. And, thankfully, an oxygenated room.

About half of the group was feeling brave (or foolish) and decided to wait for the sunset at the top of the mountain. We staved off the headaches with charades, and finally it was time. The result was spectacular.

A spectacular sunset over the pacific.

As the sun slipped below the horizon, it was time to descend. We stopped on the way back at a 24-hour pancake restaurant for some hearty Hawaiian fare – a Loco Moco bowl. A huge bowl of rice topped with a hamburger patty, chili, cheese, and 2 eggs. It was well worth the heartburn.

Yum. Highly shovelable.

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TREX – Day 5: Mauna Kea!

January 22nd, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 REX Day 5: Mauna Kea! Today, we drove up Mauna Kea, the second-highest mountain on the island. At the top, there was none of the heat nor humidity we have come to expect here. Howling winds made it difficult to hear and tore the heat straight from our bodies, while sending clouds of dust up to spiral through the air. Many us began to feel ill, unsurprising at 13,000 feet. What few plants existed were shrubs scattered haphazardly across the landscape. It was a strong reminder of the many different climate zones that Hawaii Island can experience. What is especially interesting about the Big Island is the range of climates that it contains within such a small area. Due to its tropical location, the low-altitude areas are typical of what one thinks of when Hawaii pops into mind. However, due to a pair of very large mountains, there is a rain shadow across part of the island, creating more desert-like conditions in that area. And as you move up these mountains, the temperature drops, creating even more variety. Of the 13 climate zones on Earth, Hawaii Island contains 8 of them. In such a small space, that really is a tremendous amount of change. Landscape photo of Mauna Kea from a sub-peak. Mauna Kea is tall enough to place its peak well above the lower cloud levels. This makes it ideal for looking into space. A series of telescopes and other astronomers’ tools litter the many [...]

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

REX Day 5: Mauna Kea!

Today, we drove up Mauna Kea, the second-highest mountain on the island. At the top, there was none of the heat nor humidity we have come to expect here. Howling winds made it difficult to hear and tore the heat straight from our bodies, while sending clouds of dust up to spiral through the air. Many us began to feel ill, unsurprising at 13,000 feet. What few plants existed were shrubs scattered haphazardly across the landscape. It was a strong reminder of the many different climate zones that Hawaii Island can experience.

What is especially interesting about the Big Island is the range of climates that it contains within such a small area. Due to its tropical location, the low-altitude areas are typical of what one thinks of when Hawaii pops into mind. However, due to a pair of very large mountains, there is a rain shadow across part of the island, creating more desert-like conditions in that area. And as you move up these mountains, the temperature drops, creating even more variety. Of the 13 climate zones on Earth, Hawaii Island contains 8 of them. In such a small space, that really is a tremendous amount of change.

Landscape photo of Mauna Kea from a sub-peak.

Mauna Kea is tall enough to place its peak well above the lower cloud levels. This makes it ideal for looking into space. A series of telescopes and other astronomers’ tools litter the many small peaks that exist as small hills atop the goliath. We toured one of these, the submillimeter array, as part of our visit. They showed us around the facilities and gave us a brief overview of what the machines did. I was suffering from mild altitude sickness and didn’t catch a lot of what was said, unfortunately, but essentially the array is a series of telescopes that observe submillimeter wavelengths. This can help identify objects in space using radiation to determine temperature. Don’t ask me how these things correlate; I couldn’t tell you.

One of eight telescopes that constitute the submillimeter array. The disk spans 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20]

We also went inside the visitor’s center at the Keck Observatory. Many things were closed due to the shutdown, so we were confined to a small gallery and viewing area. Fun fact about the telescope: It weights 300 tons but is floating on a layer of oil four thousandths of an inch thick. A mere 10 pounds of effort at the top—well within the strength limit of a small child—can move the telescope.

Inside the Keck Observatory. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20]

The day ended with a pastel sunset drifting below the clouds. Driving down in the fading light felt as precarious as it was beautiful, but we lived to tell our tale. All traces of headache and nausea died off upon descent, and we went to bed as well as ever.

Sunset from atop Mauna Kea. [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20]

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Global Teaching Labs: Teaching and Traveling

January 20th, 2019Global Teaching Labs

By Meghan Reisenauer '19 My classes so far have been great. I can’t believe I am already two-thirds of the way done with my time at the school! I am teaching students from Year 2 (about 14 years old) through Year 5 (about 18 years old), so each lesson must be tailored to the students’ English level and science background. I’ve been pleasantly surprised again by how much the students seem to know already about climate change and environmental issues – at the end of each lesson, I go over ways to prevent certain issues (for example, air pollution), and I nearly always get a question from a student asking what they can each personally do to help solve a problem that we discussed. I started to include these answers in my presentations, and the students seem to really appreciate the suggestions for ways to actively help. Of course, one of my main recommendations is to study fields like environmental engineering, to be the next generation of scientists searching for large-scale solutions! In front of Schloss Belvedere, a palace that has been converted into an art museum Vienna from the Stephansdom cathedral tower at dusk I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit while I’m here! Last weekend, I went to Vienna to visit a high school friend, which was convenient for me since my host city, Udine, is right next to the Italian-Austrian border! Vienna was gorgeous, with stunning architecture, palaces, art and of course, delicious strudel. I also [...]

By Meghan Reisenauer ’19

My classes so far have been great. I can’t believe I am already two-thirds of the way done with my time at the school! I am teaching students from Year 2 (about 14 years old) through Year 5 (about 18 years old), so each lesson must be tailored to the students’ English level and science background. I’ve been pleasantly surprised again by how much the students seem to know already about climate change and environmental issues – at the end of each lesson, I go over ways to prevent certain issues (for example, air pollution), and I nearly always get a question from a student asking what they can each personally do to help solve a problem that we discussed. I started to include these answers in my presentations, and the students seem to really appreciate the suggestions for ways to actively help. Of course, one of my main recommendations is to study fields like environmental engineering, to be the next generation of scientists searching for large-scale solutions!

In front of Schloss Belvedere, a palace that has been converted into an art museum

Vienna from the Stephansdom cathedral tower at dusk

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit while I’m here! Last weekend, I went to Vienna to visit a high school friend, which was convenient for me since my host city, Udine, is right next to the Italian-Austrian border! Vienna was gorgeous, with stunning architecture, palaces, art and of course, delicious strudel. I also briefly visited Trieste with my host family for dinner. Next weekend, I’ll be traveling to the South of Italy for a separate program called Soroptimists, wherein I will encourage middle school girls to become women in STEM (just like me!). Stay tuned for further blogs about this experience!

The Mediterranean seen from Trieste

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TREX Day 8: Leilani and the Super Blood Moon

January 20th, 2019TREX 2019

By Rayna Higuchi '20 Leilani Estates was right by the Fissure 8, the most destructive fissure during this past summer’s lava flows. The surrounding area has been transformed into volcanic glass; it is dangerous, unstable, and sharp. Ben, one of the TAs, is friends with someone whose property was destroyed. As sad as this is, it was luckily his second residence, so he and his family are not without a home. He was gracious enough to let us visit, both to view and understand the aftermath of a volcanic event, as well as to see the impact of the surrounding plants that survived the flow. Near the hardened lava, the trees had lost their leaves from the sulfur dioxide emissions. Only a handful showed signs of regrowth. The volcanic remains were not at all what I had expected. A brand new mountain loomed in the distance. It was generated around the fissure as lava spewed forth and began to build up around the opening. The ground had thick air bubbles that had crumbled in places. Everything glinted in the sun. Small pebbles were safe to pick up and glittered as we turned them in our hands. They weighed a fraction of what a normal pebble of similar size would. Volcanic glass from the eruption [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20] As terrible as the destruction was, the creation of new earth was also beautiful. New coconut plants popped up from the landscape. They’re often used by humans here as the first [...]

By Rayna Higuchi ’20

Leilani Estates was right by the Fissure 8, the most destructive fissure during this past summer’s lava flows. The surrounding area has been transformed into volcanic glass; it is dangerous, unstable, and sharp.

Ben, one of the TAs, is friends with someone whose property was destroyed. As sad as this is, it was luckily his second residence, so he and his family are not without a home. He was gracious enough to let us visit, both to view and understand the aftermath of a volcanic event, as well as to see the impact of the surrounding plants that survived the flow. Near the hardened lava, the trees had lost their leaves from the sulfur dioxide emissions. Only a handful showed signs of regrowth.

The volcanic remains were not at all what I had expected. A brand new mountain loomed in the distance. It was generated around the fissure as lava spewed forth and began to build up around the opening. The ground had thick air bubbles that had crumbled in places. Everything glinted in the sun. Small pebbles were safe to pick up and glittered as we turned them in our hands. They weighed a fraction of what a normal pebble of similar size would.

Volcanic glass from the eruption [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20]

As terrible as the destruction was, the creation of new earth was also beautiful. New coconut plants popped up from the landscape. They’re often used by humans here as the first colonizers of a new soil, because, to paraphrase, coconuts will grow just about anywhere. Primary succession of plants onto new land can take decades before any trees appear, but with the use of coconut trees it should be much quicker. In a year, coconut trees will cover his old yard. Their leaves will help shade the ground so that other plants can grow, and they will help build up the healthy bacteria into the growing soil. When his daughter, now in first grade, is our age, she will be able to return to her old home and see a land covered in green.

Closed-off road for lava flow [Photo by Sierra Rosenzweig ‘20]

When we were done, we went to a nearby park to take one last transect and a final drone measurement. I took a break from plants to work with TA Abby on flying the drone. We got a vertical sulfur dioxide profile. A vertical profile is when a drone flies straight up into the air and takes measurements (e.g. temperature, relative humidity, etc.) for comparison at different layers off the ground. Sulfur dioxide measurements take a while because the sensor has a lag of about a minute, so I flew it up in 50-foot increments and let it hover. On the way down, I successfully landed it on TA Kevin’s stomach. Safety schmafety.

Then, tonight, we went to see the lunar eclipse! We didn’t go to the beach as I had hoped we would, instead opting for a much closer park. Sadly, for the entire peak of the eclipse there was cloud cover. We eventually hopped into our cars to head home, only for the moon to finally show her face. We pulled over to the side of the road and watched the tail end of the eclipse from next to our car. It was beautiful, and the stars that were revealed in the dimmer moonlight were even more so. I forget how much light pollution Boston has sometimes, and how many stars there really are. Even here where there are fewer people, fewer cars, and fewer lights, we couldn’t see them all.

The sky was gently freckled. The moon veiled her face. A local horse came to visit. We pet him. It was a surreal experience.

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Classrooms & Carbs: Two Weeks in Europe

January 20th, 2019Global Teaching Labs

By Meghan Reisenauer '19 Last January, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Hawai’i for research through the CEE department’s TREX program. This year, I wanted to spend my last IAP (yes, my graduation is impending!) traveling somewhere completely different, like Italy! I signed up for MIT’s Global Teaching Labs program to teach environmental science to high schoolers somewhere in the world. Italy is the most popular GTL program, and I have many friends who have done it in the past and recommended I go for this IAP. So, I decided to spend a month in Europe! Being a tourist in Europe This was a very exciting opportunity for me, as I have essentially no experience in teaching. I really wanted to gain public speaking skills, learn how to communicate my ideas effectively and problem solve. I knew this would be especially difficult yet rewarding, given that my students would have learned English as their second or third language. This definitely added another layer of complexity when I was planning my lessons, since I wanted to use accurate scientific language, but also make sure the words would be easily understood to a non-native English speaker. I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone I have met and taught in Italy so far have been nearly fluent in English! The younger generation is particularly talented due to the emphasis on teaching English in schools. One of the only words my students did not understand was in my presentation about plastic pollution in [...]

By Meghan Reisenauer ’19

Last January, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Hawai’i for research through the CEE department’s TREX program. This year, I wanted to spend my last IAP (yes, my graduation is impending!) traveling somewhere completely different, like Italy! I signed up for MIT’s Global Teaching Labs program to teach environmental science to high schoolers somewhere in the world. Italy is the most popular GTL program, and I have many friends who have done it in the past and recommended I go for this IAP. So, I decided to spend a month in Europe!

Being a tourist in Europe

This was a very exciting opportunity for me, as I have essentially no experience in teaching. I really wanted to gain public speaking skills, learn how to communicate my ideas effectively and problem solve. I knew this would be especially difficult yet rewarding, given that my students would have learned English as their second or third language. This definitely added another layer of complexity when I was planning my lessons, since I wanted to use accurate scientific language, but also make sure the words would be easily understood to a non-native English speaker.

I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone I have met and taught in Italy so far have been nearly fluent in English! The younger generation is particularly talented due to the emphasis on teaching English in schools. One of the only words my students did not understand was in my presentation about plastic pollution in the ocean – I suggested using reusable straws as an alternative to plastic waste, and none of the students had heard the word straw before! Overall, the students’ comprehension and ability to ask questions in near-perfect English has impressed me immensely.

A main square in Udine, Italy in the evening

My host family also speaks very good English, but I am still immersing myself into Italian culture and food while I am here. I walk through the beautiful narrow streets of Udine with my host mom each morning to our large high school, and have incredible lunches with pasta, bread, vegetables and lots of cheese! The family has three cats that are the best for keeping us warm during our naps each day after classes are over.

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Day 6: Installing Meteorological Sensors in Ocean View

January 19th, 2019TREX 2019

By Janice Shiu '20 As with most days, the group split into two teams, one focused on meteorology and the other on forestry. Given yesterday’s forestry group’s enthusiasm for 7 feet tall ferns and wading through scaffolds of fallen trunks, and the meteorology group’s quiet appreciation for rest days, scenic landscapes, and building, it was little surprising that the teams were nearly the same as those from the previous day. The morning was spent on data analysis and preparing for the afternoon’s work. For the meteorology team, that meant opening up recovered sensors, taking out SD cards, graphing and comparing data, and making any necessary fixes to get the sensors up and ready for deployment. Viban Gonsalez ‘20 and TA Kevin Nihil replace wires in meteorological sensor boxes on the porch while Jordan Alford ‘20 and Danielle Espinosa ‘20 analyze the data inside. After a quick group lunch of hot dogs and sliced bread, we drove approximately one hour to Ocean View on the Southern side of the island. Hoping to get data on how sea breezes, land breezes, and the trade winds interact on the hill, we placed a series of 4 sensors starting from the beach to the highest reachable elevation. We even had a clear view of the Pacific throughout the day, which would have been covered by thick volcanic smog if the Kilauea volcano was active. Emma Rutkowski ‘19, Natalie Woods ‘20, and Jordan Alford ‘20 attaching a meteorological sensor to a pole for deployment. A [...]

By Janice Shiu ’20

As with most days, the group split into two teams, one focused on meteorology and the other on forestry. Given yesterday’s forestry group’s enthusiasm for 7 feet tall ferns and wading through scaffolds of fallen trunks, and the meteorology group’s quiet appreciation for rest days, scenic landscapes, and building, it was little surprising that the teams were nearly the same as those from the previous day.

The morning was spent on data analysis and preparing for the afternoon’s work. For the meteorology team, that meant opening up recovered sensors, taking out SD cards, graphing and comparing data, and making any necessary fixes to get the sensors up and ready for deployment.

Viban Gonsalez ‘20 and TA Kevin Nihil replace wires in meteorological sensor boxes on the porch while Jordan Alford ‘20 and Danielle Espinosa ‘20 analyze the data inside.

After a quick group lunch of hot dogs and sliced bread, we drove approximately one hour to Ocean View on the Southern side of the island. Hoping to get data on how sea breezes, land breezes, and the trade winds interact on the hill, we placed a series of 4 sensors starting from the beach to the highest reachable elevation. We even had a clear view of the Pacific throughout the day, which would have been covered by thick volcanic smog if the Kilauea volcano was active.

Emma Rutkowski ‘19, Natalie Woods ‘20, and Jordan Alford ‘20 attaching a meteorological sensor to a pole for deployment.

A stunning view from Ocean View Community Center where we paired a previous TREX’s air quality sensor with our meteorology sensors.

By the end of the day, we were dusted by the strong winds of the area. However, before heading home, we stopped by South Point, the southernmost tip of the United States, to watch the sunset.

Viban Gonzales ’20 enjoying the sunset.

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