Kāpili Winter 2017 Newsletter


Letter from
the Dean

Dr. Brian Taylor, Dean of SOEST

Dr. Brian Taylor

This has been an exciting new academic year for SOEST. We celebrated the end of five years of research of the Schmidt Ocean Institute; held our biennial Open House, opening our doors to over 5,000 K–12 students and families around the community; celebrated Dr. Murli Manghnani, a professor in our Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP), being named a 2017 American Geophysical Union Fellow; and saw the work of our researchers come to fruition through receipt of a Keck Foundation grant to study the deepest ocean zone, preliminary evidence for Polynesian ancestry on Rapa Nui, local attention for our expertise on the recent King Tides and the “blob”, and even proclamations about the Tyrannosaurus Rex. As you’ll see below, these are in addition to the wonderful stories of support from our ‘ohana of donors, and we continue to be grateful for your support and aloha.

I hope you enjoy reading about some of the people who have made an impact on our faculty and students this year. Happy holidays from all of us at SOEST.

Mahalo and best wishes,

Brian Taylor, PhD
Dean of SOEST

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Letter from
the Fundraiser

Jana Light in front of SOEST’s Pisces V manned submarine on the Ka‘imikai-O-Kanaloa.

Jana Light in front of SOEST’s Pisces V manned submersible on the Ka‘imikai-O-Kanaloa.

Aloha and mahalo to all of you, our wonderful family of donors! As I was writing this issue of the newsletter, I saw two themes emerge: 1) SOEST donors are building up the next generation of earth and environmental scientists, supporting students who will one day change the world and who will create earth-conscious communities around them; and 2) there are few things more exciting than seeing student present the results of their work to a larger community. As you read through the following stories from this past semester, I hope you see the same.

Keep an eye out for opportunities to get involved and for opportunities to see more of what SOEST has to offer—there are some exciting events coming! I look forward to seeing many of you over this next academic year and to finding new ways to partner together for the benefit of SOEST, SOEST students, and the health and vitality of this big, beautiful planet.


Jana Light
Associate Director of Development — SOEST
University of Hawai‘i Foundation

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Image of Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson stands in front of prints of his underwater photography.

Storyteller at Heart: Joe Robinson

Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology

Seven years ago, Joe Robinson took a two-year diving tour around the world and was appalled at what he saw.

“The more I dove, the more damage I saw,” Robinson said. “I asked everyone I met what they thought we should do. It was a question constantly on my lips.”

Robinson, a part-time resident of Hawai‘i, decided to reach out to the University of Hawai‘i to see what the university was doing to help address these pressing environmental problems. His initial call led him to the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and over the course of the next few years he got to know and speak to many of the researchers and graduate students.

“Every time I met with someone at HIMB, I would come away with two or three amazing stories, stories about discovery and research breakthroughs of huge importance to Hawai‘i and the planet. But these stories weren’t being told. I realized that there was a real need to build storytelling capacity to help HIMB reach a larger audience.”

In 2016, Robinson pledge five years of support to HIMB to enable greater communication and social outreach efforts.

With the first year of his 5-year gift, HIMB has funded an episode of the Sea Grant-produced television program, Voice of the Sea. The episode focuses on the educational and community outreach programs at HIMB and is set to air on Hawai‘i station KFVE over the next few months. Future installments of Robinson’s gift will be used to develop materials that will help HIMB communicate its key fundraising priorities as the institute initiatives a focused fundraising initiative.

“We live in a world where it is not made clear how basic science is directly linked to the well-being of people,” says Dr. Ruth Gates, Director of HIMB. “Joe’s gifts allows us to address that problem and make the link explicit in the public eye. It is of great value to us and to the community we serve.”

Robinson hopes his gift will enable HIMB to promote its research and findings to a wider audience and help bring even more people into its donor ‘ohana.

“HIMB has the ability to change the course of the degradation of our oceans,” says Robinson. “I think telling the stories of their research and discoveries will enable people to see what can be done and will motivate them to get involved and invested. As Sylvia Earle says, ‘Whatever you can do, do it.’”

Photo of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) calf in newsletter banner courtesy of Joe Robinson.

If you would like to make a gift to support HIMB, please visit the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology Director’s Fund UHF giving page.

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Image of Hurricane Patricia

Hurricane Patricia, one of the past storms the Jonathan Merage Foundation-funded postdoctoral student will be incorporating into the updated hurricane model.

Gaining Momentum: Jonathan Merage Foundation Expands its Partnership with SOEST

Department of Atmospheric Sciences

The Jonathan Merage Foundation is expanding its current partnership with SOEST’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences (ATMO) with furthering a project from 2016 and funding a new project aiming to improve tornado forecasting and warning lead-times for the state of Colorado.

Colorado’s storm forecasting relies in part on data from its Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) network. The network is comprised of 12 stations north of Denver which monitor lightning activity. LMA sensors have revealed distinct tornado signatures thirty minutes prior to the formation of a tornado and are used to predict severe storms.

The southernmost LMA sensor is currently located 25 miles north of Denver. The new gift will enable the construction and installation of six additional sensor stations south of Denver, expanding the LMA network to cover the Denver Metro Area and improve storm forecasting for the most densely-populated area of Colorado.

“Not only will this project allow us to provide better information to the Colorado community about incoming and potential storms,” said Professor Steven Businger, chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i and project lead, “but it will allow scientists to study and refine relationships between lightning information and the rates and severity of thunderstorms. It will allow us to better predict dangerous storms and improve lead-times for tornado warnings, which has the potential to save lives.”

Two new sensors are currently under construction with installation of four additional sensors planned over the next two years.

In addition to the new LMA collaboration, the Jonathan Merage Foundation has funded another postdoctoral position for a year of investigation into long-range lightning data.

“Last year we developed a tropical storm model that can assimilate lightning data,” said Businger. “This year we aim to improve the way cloud processes are handled in the model and run some case studies, such as Hurricane Patricia and Typhoon Haiyan, through the model. This year will get us closer to our goal of improving our ability to predict the track and intensity of tropical cyclones.”

Both projects are currently underway.

If you would like to make a gift to support the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, please visit the Department of Atmospheric Sciences UHF giving page.

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Image of Julia Hammer’s dry ice explosion demonstration.

K-12 students gather to watch Dr. Julia Hammer’s dry ice explosion demonstration.

Delightful Chaos: SOEST’s Biennial Open House

School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

On Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, SOEST held its biennial Open House, opening its doors and labs to K–12 students and families from around the community.

Every other year, SOEST puts together a fun showcase of diverse entertaining and educational hands-on activities and demonstrations, highlighting the research conducted by faculty, students, and staff. It attracts thousands of K–12 students and their classes every year.

“The Open House is one of the most important things we can offer for the community,” says Brian Taylor, Dean of SOEST. “We reach kids who are just learning about science and get them excited about the possibilities for exploring and learning about our planet, and give friends and families a taste of how SOEST is working around the islands.”

During the Open House, visitors learned about volcanoes, tsunamis, El Niño, planetary exploration, hurricanes, coastal erosion, marine ecosystems, and many more through a variety of videos, posters, and interactive demonstrations. They were able to visit state-of-the-art laboratories and hear about cutting-edge research from the scientists who are making the new discoveries!

  • Some of the 80+ exhibits included:
    Make-a-quake—On the lawn outside the Marine Science Building, students made a real earthquake in a model of the Pacific region.
  • Explosive eruptionsJulia Hammer in the Department of Geology and Geophysics held a safe demonstration of an explosive eruption fueled by dry ice. In less than 1 second, explosions carried 20 gallons of water into a 10-meter-high eruption column.
  • Life and times of the humpback whales—Information on humpback whales.
  • Surf’s up—Educational display on the causes and measures of waves.
  • Create a hurricane—In an interactive online game, students created ideal hurricane conditions by changing the winds, latitude, moisture, and sea temperature.
  • Polynesian Voyaging Society: Mālama Honua—Crew members and other volunteers from the organization shared activities and knowledge with guests, talking about science at sea and celestial navigation.
    Journey to the deep sea—Researchers showed samples and specimens from deep-sea habitats such as Antarctica and the abyssal Pacific Ocean, sharing how these animals are collected and what makes these creatures unique.

We hope you can join us for our next Open House in October 2019!

If you would like to make a gift to support SOEST’s next Open House, please contact Jana Light (jana.light@uhfoundation.org | 808-956-9172).

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Geology & Geophysics graduate student Laura Corley with the FEI Helios 660 dual beam Focused Ion Beam instrument.

Geology & Geophysics graduate student Laura Corley with the FEI Helios 660 dual beam Focused Ion Beam instrument.

Kāpili Spotlight on: Advanced Electron Microscopy Center

Hawai‘i Institute for Geophysics and Planetology

The word “dust” usually conjures up images of sneezing, chores, and drudgery, but not for Dr. Hope Ishii. She sees dust in a very different light.

Space dust, that is.

Ishii is Director of the Advanced Electron Microscopy Center (AEMC) at the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) at SOEST. The center houses two fascinating and special pieces of equipment: an FEI Titan G3 60-300 kV monochromated and dual-spherical-aberration-corrected (Scanning) Transmission Electron Microscope and a FEI Helios 660 dual beam Focused Ion Beam instrument.

These two instruments allow her team to analyze samples on the micro- to nano-scale for texture, petrography, chemistry, structure, and oxidation state.

“The keys to understanding materials and their behavior are often to be found at the nano-scale, and the FIB and aberration-corrected STEM are two very powerful tools for “seeing” at that scale,” explains Ishii. “We are currently analyzing samples from research areas that range from geology and cosmochemistry to energy storage.”

The AEMC has several exciting projects underway. One project is the Mauna Loa Cosmic Dust Collection on the Big Island. In collaboration with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hope and her team are taking advantage of unique meteorological conditions atop Mauna Loa to collect pristine, primitive dust from comets and asteroids directly from the air.

Every year, 30,000–40,000 tons of extraterrestrial dust trickles through our atmosphere to settle on the Earth’s surface. Since this dust includes organic matter, it is very likely that comets and asteroids helped to seed the Earth with the pre-biotic materials for the development of life. Her team found that the dust that floats through our solar system contains tiny droplets of water, a discovery that suggests that water and carbon-based organics, needed for the emergence of life on our planet, were delivered in a continuous rain of dust to all of the planets.

“One of the exciting possibilities emerging from our ability to collect comet dust almost continuously is that we may be able to collect enough ancient organic material in these particles to finally be able to analyze its molecular makeup in detail,” says Ishii. “This would allow us to better understand the role of comets in the development of life on our planet.”

The center is not just a place for advanced research, but also serves as a great training ground for students interested in understanding materials at such tiny size scales in a wide range of research fields. This year, the first graduate student, Laura Corley, earned her “driver’s license” after more than 75 hours of training and operating the instrument.

“Learning how to operate the FIB has been very useful for my PhD research on lunar soil analogs,” says Laura. “The experience will also allow me to expand my career into other research areas after I finish my degree and begin work analyzing samples returned from the Moon or asteroids.”

The center is also open to corporate partnerships, as the instrumentation is unique to Hawai‘i and offers great capabilities for defect and failure analysis and advanced materials development.

Please feel free to reach out if you would like a tour of the center. We’d love to show you around!

If you would like to make a gift to support the AEMC or inquire about partnership opportunities with Dr. Ishii’s group, please contact Jana Light (jana.light@uhfoundation.org | 808-956-9172).

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