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TREX 2018 Day 7: Plume Chasers

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TREX 2018 Day 7: Plume Chasers

By Meghan Reisenauer ‘19

On Tuesday, it was time to place our now-calibrated air particle sensors in the path of the vog plume. The plume is blown around the coast from Kilauea north to Kona, so we strapped a sensor to the top of our car and went plume chasing! We had nine working sensors to place, and one still in Pahala where we have been calibrating the sensors against the Department of Health’s more high-tech versions.

David, Chang, and Josh placing a sensor in the lava rocks

We also made a stop in the southernmost town in the USA, Na’alehu! We placed a sensor at the local police station there. These boxes will only be in the spots around the island for the next 48 hours or so – we’re just gathering data to try to observe trends about the movement of the vog plume and the aerosol/particle formation as it is blown around Hawai’i. We already know the general trend – that the air particles grow in number and volume the longer the vog is in the air, but we hope to correlate our relative humidity and temperature readings with particle levels.

It was quite an adventure of a day, moving from the rainy national park to the sunny, desert side of the island. At one point, we went down a steep oceanside cliff to visit a small town near the southern tip of the island, zigzagging back and forth for 15 minutes before deciding the drastic change in elevation likely wouldn’t lead to useful air particle readings if we placed a sensor there – so we headed back up the slope.

Our view of the ocean from one of the sensor points

We placed more sensors at an elementary school, fire stations, and more. Along the way, we left MIT CEE water bottles and travel mugs as tokens of appreciation with the nice locals who graciously agreed to let us place our sensors on their property. Just by chance, we happened to meet not one but two firemen whose fathers had attended MIT! We watched the sun dip below the ocean from a hill in North Kona before making our way back to the cabin for data analysis with the others.

The sunset over Kona

Every year, a group of MIT students and professors travel to the Big Island of Hawaii to gain fieldwork experience through TREX (Traveling Research Environmental EXperiences). The first TREX trip was held in 2000, and since launching has taken students on research activities in domestic and international settings. For more undergraduate opportunities, click here.