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Feb. 2004, Vol. 29 No. 1
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Research Highlights

Book explains economics of tourism

Does tourism offer a magic answer for economic development or constitute a looming threat to human and natural environments?

People interested in the debate should cruise through Manoa economist James Mak’s thought-provoking and very readable new book, Tourism and the Economy: Understanding the Economics of Tourism, from University of Hawai'i Press.

Mak examines both the benefits and pitfalls of tourism. One thing is for certain, he observes: Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, representing 10 percent of global gross domestic product and employing 8 out of every 100 people. The book contains a compendium of fascinating facts about tourism around the world and provides a glimpse at the future of tourism in the post 9-11 world.


Tea could be Hawaiʻi specialty crop

tea plant

Move over coffee and macadamia nuts. Hawai'i’s next specialty crop could be Camellia sinensis—tea. Three-year-old test plantings of the venerable beverage plant in Volcano and Mealani show promise for productivity and quality.

The research is being done by Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For the CTAHR publication "Small-scale Tea Growing and Processing in Hawai'i," download the pdf flyer or call (808)956-7036.


Research quantifies wave action

underwater sediment detector

Ocean engineers need a more specific gauge of coral’s roughness if they are to accurately understand the dynamics of waves that flow over the reef.

A Manoa team led by Assistant Professor of Ocean and Resources Engineering Geno Pawlak is developing detailed measures of roughness through surveys using echo sounder, acoustic current profiler and GPS readings.

In another wave project, geochemist Frank Sansone and oceanographer Mark Merrifield will use dye and fiber optic fluorometers to quantify chemical exchanges between sediments and the water column as waves move over the sandy seafloor.


Volcano brought civilization’s downfall

Professor Floyd McCoy

The eruption of the Thera volcano roughly 3,500 years ago was much more powerful than previously thought, according to Windward Community College Associate Professor of Geology Floyd McCoy.

Geologic evidence indicates that 50-foot waves generated by the eruption smashed ports and destroyed fleets. Ashfall was heavy and widespread. It measured 10 feet deep at Anafi 20 miles away and has been traced to the Greek mainland, bottom of the Black Sea and the Nile delta. Tree ring analysis in Turkey suggests climate change occurred in the years immediately after the eruption.

Santorini Island

Modern Santorini Island rings Thera's caldera.

Collectively, the evidence supports a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7.0, 10 times more powerful than the deadly Krakatau eruption of 1883 and matched only by the 1816 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia. In that eruption, ash blocked sunlight, causing failed harvests in the United States, Europe and Russia.

McCoy and colleagues have revived the theory that the Thera eruption contributed to the demise of the enlightened Minoan civilization on Crete.

The theory lost favor when ash discovered in Greenland ice samples dated the explosion 150 years before the Minoans’ collapse.

But scientists suggest that long-term effects on agriculture, maritime trade and social structure may have doomed Crete, which fell to Mycenaean Greek invaders in 1450 B.C.


Team explains bubbles in the underwater lava crust

Steam rising through lava in underwater eruptions creates bubble-like holes in the seafloor, some of which measure up to 82 feet deep, according to UH research reported in the Nov. 6, 2003, issue of Nature.

The discovery, by a nationwide group of scientists including Manoa graduate student Jennifer Engels and her advisor, Margo Edwards, suggests vapor formation plays an important role in creating the collapse features that characterize much of the upper oceanic crust.

Analyzing seafloor samples and mapping data, Engels found that bubbles of steam may interact chemically and physically with lava at depths of 2,500 meters or more’providing a new piece in scientists’ picture of volcanic processes and oceanic crustal formation.

Read the full article in Nature.


Hawaiian islands create a big wake

From space, the Hawaiian Islands are barely visible. But data from satellite-based microwave radar has scientists taking a closer look. The islands’ high mountain topography spread over four degrees of latitude blocks trade winds, creating an air-sea wake.

wake of Hawaiian Islands seen from space

The wake stretches 1,600 miles to the west and drives a counter current of warm water from Asia. The wake defies aerodynamic theory and far exceeds any others so far observed.

Manoa meteorologist Shang-Ping Xie, whose international team discovered the anomaly, says the wake illustrates the strong interaction between ocean and atmosphere and must be considered in climate prediction models.

Read more: NASA’s Earth Observatory page.


Camera teaches old telescope new tricks

galaxy seen with enhanced telescope

The new 16-megapixel infrared camera mounted on UH’s 2.2 meter telescope makes the 30-year-old instrument the best infrared imager in the world.

The camera was developed by Institute for Astronomy staff with Honolulu business GL Scientific and Rockwell Scientific Company under a $7 million contract from NASA Ames Research Center. It provides 16 times the sky coverage and much higher sensitivity than previous models.

Similar cameras will boost the imaging capability of larger telescopes on Mauna Kea and in Chile, and will be incorporated on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, expected to launch within 10 years. The project, coordinated by IFA’s Donald Hall, has been nominated for NASA’s highest technical award.


New subatomic particle discovered

Manoa’s High Energy Physics Group has discovered a new and unusual elementary particle, dubbed X(3872), that may be the first example of a new type of subatomic particle.

Using Japan’s KEKB accelerator and Belle Detector, UH Professor of Physics Stephen Olsen and a Korean colleague observed peculiar behavior in the short-lived particle, which weighs about the same as a single atom of helium.

X(3872) has unique decay patterns and appears to be the first in which more ordinary particles stick together the way atoms do to form molecules, the team reported in Physical Review Letters.

The U.S. Department of Energy has renewed the High Energy Physics Group’s grant of nearly $1.6 million a year for three more years.

Read more: Article about the finding


New sea worm species reported

scientific drawing of a worm

Each day, around 1,000 people tromp in and out of the water at Hanauma Bay, intent on viewing the colorful fish. Literally underfoot, grasping tight to grains of sand, a new species of saccocirrids has been identified.

The tiny polychaete sea worm and two other new species, found in coarse sands of Mamala Bay, Mokapu and Honolulu Harbor and deeper water off Wai'anae, Waimanalo and Hilo, are described in the October 2003 issue of Pacific Science journal.

Smaller than polychaetes found elsewhere, the hardy Hawaiian worms appear to thrive in high water motion and disturbed habitats, according to researchers in Manoa’s Water Resources Research Center and Sea Grant Extension Program.

Read more: Water Resources Research Center | Sea Grant Extension Program


Behaviors protect gecko clones

Like some other lizards, the Lepidodactylus lugubris species of geckos can create a duplicate set of chromosomes and produce eggs without fertilization by males. According to Hilo psychologist Susan Brown, the resulting clones appear to be more resistant to disease than species that reproduce by sexual means.

illustration of a fierce gecko

Brown has observed protective behaviors that may explain why this is so. Unisex geckos lick their eyes more often (most geckos do not have eyelids), avoid fresh feces and avoid other species.

So why do unisex species decline when sexual reproducers move in? Brown ruled out male dominance—L. lugubris are exceedingly aggressive toward larger males of bisexual species. Indirect competition for food isn’t the culprit since there’s plenty of insect meals to go around.

Nor does clones’ preference for solitude appear to be a factor. In experiments with her colony of 30–50 geckos, Brown has discovered that pheromones may play a role. Unisex geckos become less aggressive and lay fewer eggs when exposed to the chemicals, even when males aren’t actually present.

Brown’s research was triggered by curiosity about a species that was little studied when she began her work two decades ago. But it could contribute to questions related to the effect of chemicals on mammalian behavior, role of genetics in disease resistance and the evolutionary advantage of sex.

While clones have greater protection against specific diseases, introduction of a new disease agent could wipe out the entire population, she observes. Sexual reproduction creates variations in individuals’ genetic code that could afford some protection against new disease threats.


Cancer mortality rates decline in Hawai'i

Hawai'i’s death rate from cancer has fallen almost 20 percent in the last two decades, according to a new report released by UH’s Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i in conjunction with the American Cancer Society and state Department of Health.

According to data collected by the center’s Hawai'i Tumor Registry, the rates of cancer deaths decreased 17 percent among men and 19 percent among women in 1995–2000 compared to 1975– 79. However, with the state’s aging population, the number of individuals diagnosed with and dying from cancer increases each year.

While Hawai'i has low rates of cancer incidence and mortality overall compared to other states, certain ethnic groups here have the highest incidence and mortality rates for major cancers.

Japanese men have the highest rate for colorectal cancer, Caucasian men for prostate, Hawaiian women for breast and Hawaiian men and women for lung. Also, Filipino men have increasing rates of lung and colorectal cancer.


Memorial rededicated for lost researchers

Honolulu memorial plaque

A memorial garden on the Diamond Head side of Manoa’s Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics building has been rededicated in honor of UH scientists Michael Allen, Robert Harvey and Gary Niemeyer. The three were lost at sea with seven other people aboard the research vessel Holoholo in December 1978.

Gold trees that had been planted in their memory were damaged by construction of the POST building next door. With funds from friends and colleagues and labor donated by Manoa groundskeepers, a new garden was created for the 25th anniversary of the tragedy and a formal rededication held in January 2004.


Research partnerships bring resources

The University of Hawai'i at Hilo has signed a five-year agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center to create a Hawai'i Cooperative Studies Unit on the Big Island campus.

The unit will administer cooperative research, educational development and technological collaborations with a focus on Hawai'i, other Pacific Islands and similar ecological areas.

The International Pacific Research Center at Manoa received an additional $3 million from the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center to continue work on how ocean, land and atmosphere interactions cause climate change.