Monday, May 27, 2024
Volcano Watch

Big Isle students shine at science fair

Last week, the judging phase of the Hawai‘i District Science Fair was completed and awards were given to deserving young scientists. The staff at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory decided to honor two long-time local staff members and made personal donations to fund four awards for the fair. Each of the awardees received a round-trip ticket to the State Science Fair.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Okamura `Ohana Award is given each year to the best Earth Science or Environmental entries in the Junior and Senior Divisions of the Hawai‘i District Science Fair. The award is sponsored by the staff at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and honors the decades of service that Reggie and Arnold Okamura of Hilo have contributed to HVO. These brothers from one local family have been integral in monitoring every eruption of Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes from 1959 until the beginning of 2004.

“They are an excellent example of the kind of internationally recognized science that can be done by Hawai‘i Island students like you,” read the letter sent to winners. “We hope this award will enable you to improve your project and take it to the State Science Fair and, perhaps, inspire you to follow in the footsteps of the Okamura brothers and pursue science as career.”

In the Senior Research Division, the awardees were Ryoko Ogasawara, freshman at Waiakea High School (science teacher: Jamie Nekoba, mentor: Dr. Ryusuke Ogasawara) and Ciara N. Hunt, a senior at Pahoa High School (science teacher: William Ebersole; mentor: Dr. Robert Nishimoto).

Ryoko Ogasawara chronicled her search for a second black hole in the constellation Cygnus. She started with fundamentals, observing that a black hole is, of course, a hole that is black. Using publicly available software and data, she compared Cygnus X-1, an object that many astronomers agree is a black hole, to Cygnus X-3, one that has received little scientific attention. The two differed significantly in their X-ray emissions, and X-3 could not be confirmed as a black hole.

Hunt looked more closely at the water quality at Waipae Marine Life Conservation District at Kapoho. She took several samples at the popular snorkeling spot and tested them for salinity, temperature, and coliform content. The results showed that the pools closer to the open ocean had the lowest coliform content, while some nearest shore had the highest. These levels were higher than allowed for safe drinking water but lower than the allowed levels for swimming. So, don’t accidentally swallow if you’re snorkeling at Waipae.

In the Junior Research Division, the awardees were Steve N. H. Coney, a 7th grader at Kamehameha Schools, Hawai‘i Campus (science teacher: Kyle Kaaa) and Kaitlin Muelin Quist, an 8th grader at Hilo Intermediate School (science teacher Kristine Hayashi; mentor: Dr. Jim Anderson, UHH).

Coney examined how much biological (coral) versus non-biological (rock) sand composed 18 beaches on the Island of Hawai‘i. Kona beaches have more biological sand than East Hawai‘i beaches, and the amount is not necessarily correlated with the age of volcanoes. He painstakingly separated the biological versus the non-biological sand grains using an optical microscope and even a scanning electron microscope.

Quist measured the differences between the shape and size of geologic columns in the Wailuku River. These columns were formed in the interior of a Mauna Loa flow that filled the ancient Wailuku River and then were exposed when the river eroded back through the flow. Kaitlin unexpectedly found that 5-sided columns were the most common, but 3- to 9-sided columns could be found. Similar results were found in other places in the world. Pele has provided us with a puzzle in these results. If you were going to tile your bathroom, you can buy 4-sided and, for the more ambitious, 6-sided tiles, but you can’t find 5-sided tiles. The reason is that they don’t fit together without leaving spaces between them. Quist will undoubtedly find the answer.

“I love rocks,” she says. You gotta love a kid who says that.

Activity Update

Eruptive activity at the Pu`u `O`o vent of Kilauea Volcano continued unabated during the past week. Most lava flows been at the lower end of the rootless shield complex along the Mother’s Day lava tube, at the 2200-2300-foot elevation south of Pu`u `O`o. A little lava has reached the surface along the upper part of the Mother’s Day tube. Vents within the crater of Pu`u `O`o remain incandescent. No active flows are on Pulama pali or the coastal flat below Paliuli. No lava is entering the ocean.

Four small earthquakes were felt on the island during the week ending early February 12. A magnitude 1.8 earthquake felt at Leilani Estates took place at 9:23 p.m. on February 4; it was located beneath Pu`ulena Crater at a depth of 2 km (1 mile). At 3:55 p.m. on February 6, another small earthquake was felt at Leilani Estates, centered 3 km (2 miles) south of Kapoho at a depth of 3 km (2 miles) Residents of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates reported a magnitude 2.2 earthquake at 9:15 p.m. February; the offshore shake was located 20 km (12 miles) northwest of Lo`ihi Seamount, about 42 km (26 miles) below the sea floor. A resident of Kalaoa reported the largest earthquake of the week, of magnitude 2.8, at 6:46 a.m. February 11; it occurred 8 km (5 miles) north-northwest of Waiki`i at a depth of 29 km (18 miles)

Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region continues to inflate slowly. Seismic activity remains very low, with 5 earthquakes located in the summit area during the last 7 days.

Visit our website for daily volcano updates and nearly real-time earthquake information.

This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and is republished by with permission.

Hawaii Star Wire

Press releases, media advisories, and other announcements submitted to the Hawaii Star.

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