Thursday, June 25, 2009

The conference yesterday was even better than the first day!! Just like yesterday, we started off the morning with some delicious donut-like pastries. I'm not sure what kind of food they are, but they're super sugary and filled with raisins. There were also some without raisins, which were a bit lighter (relatively speaking, anyways) and still sugary and delicious.

The morning session was dedicated to group meetings, so we broke up by interest and I joined the Ecohydroloy/Paleogeochemistry group. A lot of the people in the group were discussing a specific project that’s testing core samples in a cloud forest (aka a forest located in the cloud layer) to see how climate change is recorded in plant pollination. I didn’t really understand the technicalities – a lot of the discussion was about which solutions could get rid of suspended sediment that was interfering with the desired leaf samples and the project was pretty esoteric. But I was sitting next to a man from University of Hawaii at Manoa who is both an oceanographer and a geologist! That’s like my life goal!! So we talked a bit about what oceanographers do, and I may pursue biological oceanography. This is technically different from Marine Biology because it’s more focused on microorganisms and the physical dynamics of the ocean affecting populations rather than just population relationships. But in real life, they're the same thing. I love oceans!

I also saw an amazing talk about work being done in the southwest pacific to look at mangrove contributions to carbon sequestration. Apparently on some islands, mangroves that account for only 10% of the coast can contain 30% or more of the island’s carbon. This means that degrading or removing mangroves can release a hugely disproportionate amount of carbon into local and world systems. So when I get to Australia and have to do a research project, I may work on the mangroves and see what their carbon content is, both in the wood itself by looking at density cores and then by checking layers of the surrounding soils. So I gained a research project idea and a longer-term idea of what I can do with my life! A job well done, I would say.

We went to Peter Vitousek’s house after the conference for a small-ish dinner. He lives in Volcano Village, which is right by Kilauea and Volcanoes National Park, and his house is BEAUTIFUL. It’s also a LOT colder there because of the elevation and because it’s near the dry side of island so the cloud cover isn’t as insulating. The drive is maybe 45 minutes from Hilo and it was torrentially raining on the way there but it was beautiful once we arrived. The food was great – Peter’s wife, Pam Matson, is the Dean of the Earth Systems department and she’s quite a lady. I mentioned that I really liked her potato soup and her response was, “Yes, it’s great, isn’t it? I first tried when I had a terrible hangover. It totally works!” HAHAAAA that’s awesome!! So she gave me the recipe, of course, because I'm a college student and who doesn't want a hangover cure? Everyone was super nice and I met more graduate students and researchers who are friends with Peter and Pam.

After dinner we drove to Kilauea crater to see it glowing because the hot rock/lava is only visible at night. We couldn’t see any directly flowing lava from our vantage point, but there was clearly a lot of hot rock going on and steam vents all along the road to the crater. SO COOL!


Today there was a gorgeous rainbow awaiting us when we awoke!! And above it was a much more faded one. Both were beautiful and it was a good omen; we went into the field and finished rigging 6 trees and setting up 2 edge plots by 1 PM!! That's definitely record-speed and we were prepared for rain today so it was a very comfortable experience overall. I had some sweet rain pants so I didn’t even notice the mist (see photo. Please. I looked like a crazy kind of candy). I also found out Hilo is the rainiest city in the US. Yeah, I could have guessed that after being here for a couple weeks.

We also finished making litterfall traps and now I’m at home, full of fried rice and peanut butter M&Ms, watching the rain fall!

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