Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monitoring radiation in Kona Hawaii

As soon as we realized that a half dozen nuclear reactor cores were overheating and melting down in Japan, we turned on our 3 radiation detectors  to see if the radiation was going up here in Kona. We have not given our detectors much attention since moving to Hawaii. Unlike the wide variations in readings we would get on the mainland, the detectors have been consistent here day after day with the same low readings. We knew when we moved to Hawaii that there were no local massive nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons factories. And we knew that wind patterns were favorable for low radiation fallout in case of a disaster elsewhere. However, the extent of damage and ongoing radiation contamination at the Fukoshima nuclear power plant is disturbing.

In Hawaii we are 2200 miles closer to the reactors in Japan than the US mainland and if for some reason the wind blew directly this way (fortunately it rarely does) we might get more concentrated nuclear contamination and a higher dose of radiation.   We are happy that our detectors are showing the normal low levels of background radiation (.016 mREM/hour), so far.

We started monitoring radiation over 20 years ago while living in Los Alamos, New Mexico. When measuring radiation dosage, it’s all about the rate of exposure, in other words, how much radiation and for how long. Fortunately our bodies are capable of and used to repairing the damage from background radiation. The problem occurs when the rate of damage from radiation exceeds our body’s ability to repair itself. OSHA uses REMs (Roentgen Equivalent Man) to quantify radiation exposures. Over the years OSHA has come up with the whole body maximum exposure rate of 1.25 REM over any 3 month period and a total maximum exposure of 5 REM per year.

Dosage is also measured by RAD (Roentgen Absorbed Dose), a measure of the actual amount of radiation absorbed. Sieverts have been promoted by the medical industry because it takes into consideration the volume of the portion of the body exposed and the amount of time of exposure. But in a nuclear disaster like the one in Japan, the distinction is less relevant because every part of the body is getting dosed. Even so, Sieverts are being used to report the dosage to the public. One Sievert (Sv) is equal to 100 REM. To add to the confusion, radiation exposure is also being reported in Grays and nanoGrays, yet another measurement of radiation dose

We created a radiation unit converter Google gadget that allows you to enter in any value and see the values of the other dose units so you can compare them.

Here is what we are finding about the radiation exposure in Japan:
  • Reports from an independent radiation monitoring site on the internet is showing 38 microREM per hour in Tokyo.
  • The IAEA Radiation team took measurements at distances from 56 to 200 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 20 and they found contamination levels that ranged from 2 to 160 microSieverts per hour. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said on March 23 that the workers at the Fukushima plant had withdrawn after radiation monitoring showed levels of 500 millisieverts per hour.
  • Our readings in Kona Hawaii range between .005 and .020 mREM per hour.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Volcanic Eruptions and Revolutions

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano’s activity  increased last week with eruptions spewing lava up to 100 feet from a new fissure on the side of the volcano. The heightened activity in Hawaii was joined by other eruptions this year from volcanoes on the Island of Kyushu in Japan, Eastern Kamchatka in Russia, the Mariana Islands, Ecuador, Montserrat, Sulawesi, Guatemala, and Luzon. The massive earthquake in Japan last week was accompanied by an eruption of Mount Karangetang in Indonesia just hours later and renewed action from Shinmoedake Volcano in Japan. History has numerous examples of volcanic eruptions triggering revolutions.

The French revolution has been attributed to the Laki Volcano eruption in 1783. That year, the Laki Volcano spewed ash and gasses across Europe and North America creating what became known as the “sand summer” due to all the falling volcanic ash. The year of the eruption was followed by the coldest winter on record in North America with record snow on the East Coast and a frozen Mississippi River at New Orleans with the Gulf of Mexico reported to have had ice floating in it. The eruption was followed by years of wild storms, loss of livestock, and poor crop yields causing widespread famine.

A similar “Year without a Summer” occurred in 1816 when the average global temperatures decreased enough to cause food shortages worldwide. Food riots and famine spread across Europe and huge storms and flooding were widespread. The cold weather was caused by a large number of volcanic eruptions culminated by a colossal eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia, which is considered the largest eruption in over 1,630 years. The falling ash resulted in red and brown snow in far away Italy and Hungary.

It should be no surprise then that less than a year after the massive eruptions of Iceland’s Eyjafalljokull Volcano in April 2010, revolution is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia’s revolution began in December 2010 and led to the ousting of their President in January 2011. The demonstrations were attributed to the people’s frustration with high unemployment, high food prices, and lack of freedom. Tunisia’s success spread revolution to Egypt, which met with the same success by ousting their leader. Demonstrations and riots have spread throughout the Arab peninsula and China. But the riots started even earlier in 2010 when European workers rioted over their austerity programs and Asian countries like Thailand had severe political unrest.

The year before the onset of revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, Iceland’s Eyjafalljokull Volcano eruptions were joined by 25 other erupting volcanoes in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, US Mariana Islands, DR Congo, Italy and the US Aleutian Islands. This was a substantially larger number of volcanic eruptions than the preceding years with less than 10 reported annually.

During the summer of 2010, the snow in Siberia never melted which is being blamed for the summer’s heat and this winter’s unusually cold temperatures. Climatologists claim that the snow layer that remained in Siberia last summer kept the arctic air mass from moving south and cooling North America in the summer as it normally does. They also predicted a cold winter this year. Snowbirds we know say the snow on the golf course in Canada is melting off slower than normal this year.

Living on Hawaii Island, volcanoes are always on our mind, along with earthquakes and tsunamis. Kilauea Volcano has been erupting for decades spewing thousands of tonnes of sulfuric acid into the skies above the Hawaiian islands and extending all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Guam. We feel the effects of the increased Volcanic smog (VOG) by seeing a reduction in our solar panel output by about 50%. On heavy VOG days, the temperature of the swimming pool drops by about 4 degrees and we notice on heavy VOG days we can skip the sunscreen and not get burned. History tells us that increased volcanic haze from volcanic eruptions will result in food shortages, high food prices and in many places revolutions.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami in Kona

The terrible earthquake in Japan resulted in a Tsunami in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Compared to the destruction in Japan, it was minor, but there were many structures, houses and businesses along the beach that were damaged or destroyed.

Waves crashed over Ali'i Drive along Kailua Bay and destroyed sidewalks, buildings and businesses.

Access to the beach and Ali'i Drive along the beach was blocked by Civil Defense.

Evacuated cars and people lined Kuakini Drive waiting to get back to their homes.

Ali'i Drive was strewn with trees, electric wires. Some houses were destroyed after being lifted off their foundation.

Honls Beach on Ali'i Drive was flooded to the sea wall and littered with debris.

Sand covered the road next to the King Kamehameha Hotel.

Sites with pictures and videos of Kailua Kona Village destruction:

Triathlon Competitor News - showing Kailua pier under water
Samfarmar tsunami video - showing the wall of water going over the Kona sea wall

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Living with an active Volcano in Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano has been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of days. News sources are reporting lava eruptions of 65 to 100 feet following the Pu’u ‘O’o crater collapse on Saturday which ripped open a mile long fissure. But the latest eruption is not new, it is a continuation of our island's construction grand construction project.

For those of us living on Hawaii island, the volcanoes are constantly reminding us of their presence. They shakes the ground with earthquakes and Kilauea puffs out thousands of tonnes of sulfur dioxide and poisonous gasses every day. In Kalapana, where the lava is pouring into the sea, residents watch the shifting lava flows and witness houses and roads being consumed by lava.

The most popular place to view the Volcano's activity is in Volcanoes National Park at Jaggar Museum which has a lookout over the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. You can watch it remotely from USGS live cameras overlooking the crater.

But the Pu’u O’o crater, where all the excitement is happening is not easy to see. The activity is in an inaccessible area of Volcanoes National park. The best views of the lava fountains are from a helicopter, assuming the area is safe to fly near. The USGS has set up live cameras of the crater, but the volcanic gases usually obscure the action:
USGS cameras positioned on the east rim of Puʻu ʻŌʻō's crater
USGS cameras positioned on the north rim of Puʻu ʻŌʻō's crater.

The lava flows out of the park from Pu’u O’o crater to the ocean. The County of Hawaii monitors the lava flow outside of the National Park and visitors show up every day at the end of Highway 130 in Puna to view the lava. There is a parking lot with vendors selling pictures, jewelry, water, snacks, coffee, flashlights, T shirts, etc. The best views are at night when the surreal red glow contrasts to the pitch blackness of the night and the stars are clear and bright above. But even with a guide, flashlights, and proper shoes the trek to the lava is incredibly dangerous. Deep lava tubes and crevices are hard to see at night, the lava is surface is not flat, and chunks of lava can give way suddenly underneath your feet. Most of the land is private property and you may run into unsavory characters out on the lava fields.

The Hawaii County Civil Defense staffs the Kalapana viewing site and the free parking lot is open from 5 to 10PM to guard and protect visitors. Sometimes County workers block off access to the lava to keep people from walking on unstable ground, so the viewing may be from a distance or obstructed completely depending upon where the flow is located. A County Lava Hotline (808) 961-8093 is updated every day to give information about the current lava flow. Other good sources of information are the Hawaiian Lava Daily Blog and the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory Daily updates.

We know people who have hiked out to the lava after 10PM to avoid the County barricades and get close to the lava for photography. They met with disaster after falling into a crevice and getting a compound fracture to their ankle. It isn’t worth jeopardizing life and limb to get a good view that day. Follow the path, wear good solid shoes, take a jacket, water, flashlight and stay safe. The lava is slippery if wet, so beware when it rains The hot rocks and crevices with rain water make the lava fields a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so take bug spray if they bother you. It is a long drive back to the west side of Hawaii island if you are coming from there, so save your energy to drive safely back.

Walking tours are available for $50 to $75 per person in groups of 20 or more and take 3-4 hours. They are led by land owners in the area and leave at about 6PM and return about 9:30PM. They can lead you closer to the lava and keep you safer. Another option is to take a boat tour which lets you to view the lava from the ocean perspective. The tours run about $150 per person and leave from the Kapoho area.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hawaii Property Ownership Complexities

Property use in Hawaii is ruled by a complex web of historic laws, articles in the Hawaii Constitution, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) and controlled by State and County organizations including the State Land Use Commission, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), State Board of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Homelands, and individual County Planning Commissions. In Hawaii, no title is entirely free of encumbrances because of historic claims that are still in effect, as well as the State of Hawaii’s ownership of all property mineral rights.

The ancient Hawaiians’ version of property ownership was by ahupua‘a, a division of land running from the mountains (mauka) to the sea (makai). The ahupua‘a supplied food and materials to the maka‘ainana (commoner residents) who tended the land, as well as to the konohiki (overseers) who administered the ahupua‘a, and the ali‘i nui (chief), who was often responsible for one or more ahupua‘a. Today, Article XII, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution, adopted in 1978, states “The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua'a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights." These rights are maintained regardless of the ownership of the land.

A dramatic change occurred in 1845 when King Kamehameha III changed property ownership to be more like the westernized system with land titles. Hawaii lands were divided up among the Kingdom, Chiefs, and the Territorial government, in what is known as Ka Mahele ( “The Division”). In 1850, a law was passed allowing native tenants to claim title to the lands they worked and acquire what is known as a Kuleana parcel. Today Kuleana rights are still attached to the land irrespective of the current owners of the title or deed. The rights attached to the decedents of the original Kuleana owners include: access, agricultural use, gathering and religious ceremony rights, rights to a single-family dwelling, water rights, and fishing rights. An adjoining property may be the only way to access to Kuleana and the rights to water in a stream on the property may be under the control of the Kuleana. Many of the Kuleana are never used, but at any time a group or individual could show up and plant taro or construct a house on the parcel within the property. Kuleana details are defined in Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 183C.

The Highways Act of 1892 approved by Queen Liliuokalani guarantees the public’s right-of-way to all existing trails at that time. This act combined with HRS Chapters 171 and 264. is under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Land and Natural Resources so that private property with historically used trails must allow public access to the trail.

And any property with a building, structure, or burial site that is over 50 years old may be designated as a Historic site under HRS Chapter 6E. The DLNR State Historic Preservation Division is responsible for all 6E sites and property owners are limited in what they can do with that portion of their property. In many cases the sites are cordoned off so that the historic areas cannot be accessed by the owners.

But, even if a fee-simple property doesn’t have a Kuleana, historic site, or trail on it, native Hawaiians may still have the right to gather on the property for religious or cultural purposes. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that Hawaii Revised Statutes section 7-1 protect the gathering rights of native Hawaiians on Moloka’i on private property. Pele Defense Fund also won a case that gave them access to private land for religious purposes based on the land’s historic use. In another case, a building permit issued by Hawaii County to develop a resort was successfully challenged when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that native Hawaiians retain their rights to pursue traditional and customary activities. The Hawaii Supreme Court did clarify that “fully developed” residential property is not open to native Hawaiian gathering rights, but the court acknowledged that the reality of property ownership in Hawaii is that “ land title in Hawaii confirms only a limited property interest”.