Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sun Halo in Hawaii

Overcast Kohala Coast
We have been having usual weather on the southern Kohala coast of Hawaii Island.  The normal desert climate has been overcast with high humidity.  Usually the rain clouds are blocked by the massive Mauna Kea Volcano and the trade winds keep the humidity low and the evening temperatures cool. Remnants of tropical storm Fausto, that made it to Hawaii from Baja California, are being blamed for the hot, humid, rainy weather in Hawaii early this week. 

This past Sunday we were surprised to see a rainbow halo around the sun.  A circular rainbow, or halo, is an optical phenomenon that forms around the sun when the sunlight is refracted in ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.

Sun Halo on Kohala Coast
The light cast off by the rainbow halo made the landscape seem surreal and dreamlike.  Since we consider rainbows a sign of good things to come, we consider this giant circular rainbow an especially good sign.

Sun halos have historically predicted rainy weather and the island has been getting a lot, particularly on the east side. On Monday (July 14), while we were dazzled by the sun halo, Hilo had a record rainfall of 4.34 inches which broke their old record set in 1991 of 1.89 inches that day.

A new low pressure system southeast of the island is moving towards Hilo and bringing more showers.  We will be on the lookout for more rainbows.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Delightful Hawaii Mornings

Every day on Hawaii Island we cherish how great we feel when wake up in the morning.  It is a special type of joy to awaken to the sounds of tropical birds, the smell of flowers, and the sight of a brilliant sunrise.

We were recently reading a book called Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality that details research that explains why we sleep so well and feel so great when we wake up on Hawaii Island.  We specify Hawaii Island because many of the attributes are unique to Hawaii Island.

We go to sleep with a very dark sky.
Hawaii Island is careful to control light pollution in support of the optical telescopes on Mauna Kea.  There are lighting ordinances that require shielded light and limited street lights.  On cloudless nights, the bright stars are visible above when we fall asleep at night.  According to Dr. Selhub, research shows that artificially brightened night skies interfere with the sleep cycle by affecting melatonin production and that even low levels of light during the night can interfere with normal adult brain cell structures. Our very dark night sky helps us get into a deeper sleep.

At night we hear calming sounds of nature.
We keep our windows open and can hear the wind blow through the palm trees as we fall asleep. A Japanese research team at Chiba University showed that sounds of nature, like the sound of a creek, changes the brain blood flow to a state of relaxation. A study from Stockholm University showed that nature sounds calmed people down whereas road traffic noise increased stress based on measurable physiological markers.  We don’t have noise from traffic or machinery where we live.  We didn't realize how quiet it was until we spent some time in Honolulu last year and were unsettled by the constant background drone of traffic, AC, and machinery spiked with loud sirens all night long. 

We wake up to a symphony of tropical birds songs 
Every morning the birds start to sing as the sun is rising.  Research published in Psychological Medicine in 2006 showed that hearing birds songs in the morning lifts the mood and decreases fatigue.

Blue light shines through our windows at sunrise  
Early morning light has more blue spectrumThe eye is very sensitive to the blue color (460nm) and causes the brain to wake up, increase alertness, and boost concentration. Researchers at the University of Greenwich showed that blue light made people happier, more alert, and more productive. The blue spectrum declines the most in the winter compared to other spectrums, but in Hawaii we do not lose our blue spectrum light in the winter.

We breathe fresh air and negative air ions.
Breathing in negatively charged air ions, most prevalent in the morning, has been shown to improve health. Dr Selhub cites research that shows negative air ions reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and improve cognitive performance.  Negatively charged ions are depleted by pollution, electronic devices, and in enclosed places. Being near the ocean with warm tropical rain, gives us plentiful negative air ions in Hawaii.

We have aromas from flowers all year long.
We love having beautiful, tropical flowers around us all the time.  Research at Wheeling Jesuit University found that the aromatic chemicals in flowers can increase alertness, even in extremely small concentrations.

We start every day by waking up to bird chatter, soaking in the early morning sunlight, breathing in negative air ions, and smelling the flowers.  Now we know it is not just our imagination that this place is good for our health. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shark at Kona Pier

 Swim Lane off Kailua Pier in Kona
We have been swimming from the Kona pier for over a decade and never seen a shark. We have seen sharks while snorkeling in Maui and encountered them in the Caribbean, but never in Kona.   So we  were surprised to see a shark in shallow water directly under the swim lane while snorkeling toward the King Buoy with friends last week.
Shark under swim lane near Kailua Pier in Kona

In our other shark encounters, the sharks were in deep water if stationary or they were moving and gone quickly.  Swimming above a stationary shark in shallow water was different and very unnerving.
Bait ball next to Kailua Pier in Kona
We continued on our snorkel and followed our friends to an immense bait ball nearby.  A bait ball is a tightly packed formation of fish.  It is often spherical shaped, but in this case it was a massive, long rectangle of fish.  Some sources say these formations last only a few minutes, but the frequent bait balls near the pier in Kona remain intact a long time.  Some claim that bait balls are a defensive maneuver of small fish.   Perhaps the nearby shark had just finished a huge meal.
Bill ("dolphin-man") swimming through the bait ball

We swam further out to see if we could get to a pod of dolphins swimming near a half dozen tour boats in the bay. The dolphins had left by the time we got there.  
Dolphin tour Boats in Kailua Bay across from Royal Kona Resort
But we made it to the 1500 meter swim buoy.
Buoy marking swim route in Kailua Bay, Kona

We were hoping the shark would be gone by the time we swam back and after a  quick look around there was no sign of the  shark.  Relieved, we slowed down and rested a bit by treading water.  Our friends were distracted with something under us, so we put back on our masks to check it out.  
Shark underfoot in Kona
Directly below our feet was the shark lying on the sand.   “SWIM!”  We all made it back to the pier very quickly.  Though many of the swimmers were talking about the shark on the pier, most were not worried and jumped right in.

Our friends were convinced the shark was just sleeping or sick.  Whatever brought the shark to our swimming lane, we can no longer say that we have never seen a shark in Kailua Bay.