Saturday, October 31, 2009


As the surge in foreclosures in Hawaii and the State furloughs and layoffs begin to hit home here in Hilo, we wonder how tough this downturn will get in the Aloha State. We realize that Hawaii has a long way to go before there is a turnaround and there will likely be more painful pay cuts and layoffs here in Hilo over the next year or two. But we are convinced this downturn will be different and shorter in Hawaii then on the mainland and here are our reasons:

1. Many of the jobs created by the tourist and real estate industry over the past ten years were filled by people from the mainland and Europe. We have noticed that as the jobs have evaporated over the past year, the mainlanders have already packed up and returned to the mainland. This helps the unemployment situation here because the large number of unemployed workers that would normally be competing for the few remaining jobs available in Hawaii are no longer in the State. So unlike the situation on the mainland, every new job that becomes available in Hawaii will have less people competing to get it.

2. The Hawaii tourist industry has a long history of being volatile with big increases in visitors after sharp downturns. Hawaii has traditionally had a low rate of unemployment, so the sudden high rate of lost jobs is likely to recover as quickly as it has in the past. In spite of this current downturn, visitors are likely to keep coming to Hawaii for the same reasons they have always have: Hawaii is an incredibly beautiful and fun place to visit.

3. Over 25% of Hawaii’s visitors are from foreign countries and that percentage has been growing as Asian countries have become richer. This makes Hawaii less dependent on the mainland US recovery for its recovery. The strong drop in the dollar as compared to the Euro and Yen since 2007 makes Hawaii a real travel bargain for foreign tourists. When the concern over the global pandemic flu lets up, we believe that the Asian, Japanese, and European tourists will return in even greater numbers.

4. Boomers have been a big factor in the surge in tourism in Hawaii over the last decade and as they start retiring they will have even more time to visit. One of the benefits of retirees moving to Hawaii is that they usually don’t take a job away and their retirement and savings income adds to the economy. As the 77 million Boomers in the US retire over the next 10 years there will be a huge increase in their visits and relocations to Hawaii creating more jobs and new sources for State tax income.

5. Though the furloughs and layoffs are really tough, people in Hawaii don’t have their identities defined by their job and they enjoy and value the extra time to talk story with their family and friends. Food is shared as a part of family and groups that socialize and people take the time to fish and grow food in their backyards, so most people living in Hawaii are not going to go hungry. The pain of lost income has the buffer of the Ohana factor in Hawaii where families move in together to share costs and help each other out. Those without a job have much to contribute to their family like fixing the roof, keeping up the garden, watching grandma and the kids, cooking or making clothes. When the jobs come back, people won’t be depressed or out of practice but happy to have work outside the house.

Hawaii is the best place in the US to be unemployed. People in Hawaii are not obsessed by world news or getting ahead and they don’t look down on you if you don’t have a job which makes it easier for us to focus on the warm beautiful days gained instead of career opportunities lost.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


2009 is the International Year of Astronomy for the world to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of a telescope to study the sky (versus watching for returning ships or spying on neighbors). Astronomy enthusiasts across the world are using their telescopes this weekend in an effort to share Galileo’s experience of seeing Jupiter and its moons with as many people as possible

Hawaii County has had numerous activities surrounding the year long celebration. One of the highlights was a monthly lecture series featuring the Directors responsible for the telescopes on Mauna Kea mountain.

Today was another great event, an open house of every Observatory on Aohoku Place in Hilo above the University of Hawaii. Seven of the nine Observatory headquarters on the island of Hawaii are located on this street with the titanium cones of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center located below them.

The Observatories located in Hilo are the Gemini Observatory, Joint Astronomy Centre, Japan’s Subaru Observatory, CalTech’s Submillimeter Array Observatory, the Smithsonian Submillimeter Observatory, NASA Infrared Telescope, and University of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Observatory.

The Canada-France-Hawaii telescope and Keck Observatory offices are located in Waimea. Hilo will soon have a new Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) which is planning to start construction of the largest telescope in the world on Mauna Kea in the next couple of years.

Subaru telescope is funded by Japan and they celebrated the day with music and tours.

We were delighted to get a tour of the Subaru facility.
They showed us the area where Astronomers can remotely control and view the telescope operation.

Subaru has a lab with a replica of the telescope mounting used on Mauna Kea so that they can test new devices and verify they will properly install before they haul them up to the almost 14,000 foot level.

Hilo has an active Astronomy community with regular lectures by visiting Astronomers sponsored by Astrotalk and a yearly AstroDay event supported by the Astronomers, museums and University of Hawaii. Most kids on the island have have been exposed to astronomy through ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center’s family events, camps, after-school programs, and school fields trips supported by the Moore foundation
Hilo is a great place to be into Astronomy with many opportunities to learn and participate in observing the Universe and the dark skies program that limits light pollution and makes the Big Island one of the best places on Earth to view the skies at night.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Living under the constantly erupting Kilauea Volcano in Hilo, Hawaii, we are especially attentive of news about other volcanoes around the world. It seems to us that a lot of volcanoes have been erupting during the past couple of years. Some scientists claim there are not more active volcanoes than usual but just more reports due to the increased population combined with better communications. They claim that 50 to 70 volcanoes erupt each year and 20 are always erupting.

But looking at volcanic reports, there seems to us to be a large number of active volcanoes, many of them having huge eruptions pushing emissions far up into the atmosphere. Since the beginning of 2009 thirty-seven volcanoes around world have started or continued eruptions,
including Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii. Many of these erupting volcanoes are having major ash emissions reaching high altitudes which cover the earth.

In Indonesia at least seven volcanoes are currently erupting; Krakatau’s eruption has pushed ash to10,000 feet and Ibu’s eruption created a white-grey plume which rose over 1300 feet above its summit. Volcanoes are erupting in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Barren Island, and Japan. In September, the Mayon Volcano in the Philippines exploded ash up to 2300 feet.

In Alaska, Redoubt’s eruption created an ash emission up to 50,000 feet in March and Cleveland Volcano created an ash cloud reaching an altitude of 20,000 feet in October. Sarychev Peak Volcano on the Kurile Islands pushed ash emissions to 34,000 feet and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is having a record six volcanoes simultaneously erupting.

In August, Mexico’s Popocatepetl Volcano emitted ash to an altitude of 27,000 feet. Chaitén Volcano in Chile has had major eruptions this year with ash emissions reaching 100,000 feet. There are eruptions taking place in Mexico, Chile, Columbia and the Galapagos Islands. In Europe Montserrat Soufriere Hills, Mount Etna, and Stromboli Volcanoes are erupting.

Volcanoes are mostly tracked by satellites, so eruptions are not always seen due to the satellite’s position, darkness or clouds. This list does not include the numerous strong earthquakes under or near volcanoes this year, nor the consistently emitting volcanoes like Yellowstone or Long Valley in Mammoth Mountain which discharges 50-150 tons of carbon dioxide gas at the Horseshoe Lake Tree Kill Area range daily

The rate at which sulfur dioxide (SO2) has been released from Kilauea Volcano here in Hawaii has typically been between 150 and 200 tonnes/day, but in late December 2007, the emission rate increased to nearly 300 tonnes/day and it continued to rise until March 2008 when it reached 1,800 to 2,000 tonnes/day. The rate has slowly let up since then but is still up to 500 to700 tonnes/day, almost 4 times what is was before 2007. These emissions have crated haze and vog across Hawaii which sometimes reaches all the way to Guam.

Two thousand years ago Plutarch claimed that the eruption of Mount Etna in 44 B.C. dimmed the Sun and suggested that the resulting cooling caused crops to shrivel and produced famine in Rome and Egypt. Gasses from volcanoes result in numerous impacts on the climate and the USGS is currently studying gas emissions at 70 active volcanoes in the US alone.
Sulfur dioxide is known to cause global cooling and ash injected at high altitudes can blot out the sun.

We notice here in Hilo that on days when heavy volcanic emissions (VOG) are overhead, it reduces the electrical production from our solar panel by 50%. We wonder if these global volcanic emissions will mean a colder winter this year or perhaps for several years to come?