Memories of Snow

All of the snow on Mauna Kea is gone again, the last forlorn patches disappearing in the last weeks of May. The glistening white has surrendered to the rich browns and reds of the cinder.

It was a bit of a bet among the crew as to whether the last patches would last until June 1st. Considering much of the snow in question fell just before Christmas, this was quite the run. Alas, the last bits were gone just before the 1st.

While we may get a light dusting or two over the summer anything heavier is unlikely. We had a fairly snowy winter over the 2016-2017 season. I wonder what next winter will bring?

Mauna Kea Snow Panorama
A modest snowfall in February, 2017 covers the southern plateau of Mauna Kea

Morning Fogbow

As you drive to the top of the cloud layer you hit a point where the fog and the sunlight mingle. This is often between 7,000 to 9,000 feet, a mile or three below Hale Pōhaku. Passing through this zone is often a beautiful event in the day, rainbows, fogbows and misty shadows fill the mountain air…

A fogbow formed from drifting fog blowing across the Mauna Kea access road. Click on the image to peruse the panorama properly.

First Fish

Among the tribes of the coastal northwest there is a ceremony that surrounds the first fish of the season. These ceremonies might vary from tribe to tribe, from family to family, but every tribe had such a ceremony.

Black Bear Fishing
A black bear (Ursus americanus) fishing at the Anan Wildlife Observatory
Life once depended on the yearly return of salmon to the rivers and streams each summer. For bears, eagles, and humans the annual bounty of salmon provided the nourishment that would see them through the long winter. The forest itself benefits from the nutrients carried from distant seas into the trees where the salmon would spawn and die.

Upon catching the first salmon of the season the tribe will stop and celebrate. They celebrate the life of the fish, they celebrate the cycles of the natural world, they celebrate their connection with nature. Some protocols insist that the first fish be released, to continue upriver to spawn, to ensure the salmon continue to return each summer.

That one idea is the critical bit, our connection with nature. Any fisherman understands that he takes from the natural world. A good fisherman stops and considers what he takes. He takes only what he needs to feed his family. This is the entire point of the first fish ceremony, it serves to educate the community in the act of taking, to limit what you take to what the environment can provide.

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Tragedy on Mauna Kea

First word came through a mountain staff mailing list used to let everyone know about safety conditions of the mauna…

Mauna Kea Wreck
A wrecked Toyota pickup truck about a mile below Hale Pohaku

Hawaii police dept. requests the public to avoid the Maunakea access road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. This accident is below the VIS on the access road. One lane is currently open going down the road.
– Mahalo from the VIS staff

Reading between the lines it is quickly obvious that this was a fatal accident and the police are doing a full investigation, the usual reason for such a long closure. Sure enough a notification soon came through the local emergency services alert system on my phone…

AVOID the Mauna Kea Access Road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. The entire roadway above the visitor center is closed while police conduct an investigation. – HPD Notification

A few more details showed up as messages flew back and forth on Facebook, this really is a small island sometimes. Knowing I would be up the next morning I expected to get the details first hand at breakfast.

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The TMT Contested Case Winds Down

We are now in March, looking back to October when the TMT contested case began. Five months of hearings endlessly repeating the same details about every aspect of the case.

Yes… My patience has run out long ago.

Retired Judge Riki May Amano
Retired Judge Riki May Amano presides over the TMT contested case hearing
After all that has been said and done it is clear that the actual substance of the case could have been thoroughly discussed in a couple weeks, not five months.

Among the endless hours of testimony there have been occasional moments of fireworks. We have heard wild theories, mangled science, inexcusable ignorance, evidence of unemployment claims fraud, and several very likely incidents of outright perjury by telescope opponents.

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To Play in the Snow

There are days when it seems like the entire island population comes to Mauna Kea. This is certainly the case on a snow day, the first day the road is open after a fresh snowfall will see a crowd of folks ascending to the summit to play in the snow.

Loading Snow
Loading pickup trucks with snow for export from the mauna.
This winter the snow came for Christmas, several feet of snow just before the holiday. MKSS was able to plow through the snowdrifts and open the road for the public on Christmas Eve. The result was predictable, hundreds drove up to the snow to enjoy a white Christmas.

One local tradition is the hauling of snow from the summit to the beach. On some days dozens of pickup trucks can be found on the summit, or filled with snow making their way down the mountain road. The snow will be the basis of parties and games on the beach or in green tropical lawns. Online you can find photos of snowmen under palm trees or snowball fights and smiling keiki on Hilo yards.

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TMT Opponent’s Alternative Facts

A number of other commentators are noting the use of alternative facts by telescope opponents. While I have commented a few times here on DV about the issue, it is heartening to note that I am not alone in this.

Ahu
An ancient ahu (shrine) at 11,000ft on Mauna Kea
Environment Hawaii has published a number of articles that cover the ongoing TMT contested case. The latest is quite critical of Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend’s recent testimony. The article is quite forthright in noting a list of factual errors in her testimony.

Many of the witnesses have testified on cultural and religious issues, no problems here, these are personal matters where there is no objective truth. But over and over we have seen witnesses make very specific physical and scientific claims that are simply wrong. It will be interesting to see how these inaccuracies are addressed in the findings of the hearing officer.

No, Mrs. Townsend, there are no glaciers on Mauna Kea. There used to be, about ten thousand years ago, but they are gone now.

Distanced from Reality

On Monday I tuned back into the TMT contested case hearing, it is a soap opera that has become rather addictive over the last few months. I will often keep the video feed up in the corner of my monitor, attempting to pick up the more interesting bits through the day.

Michael Lee
Michael Lee testifies at the TMT contested case hearing Jan 24, 2017
Mr. Lee claims to be a papakilohoku, a star priest, I tuned into his testimony with some interest. As an amateur astronomer who has spent countless nights under the stars observing with hand made telescopes, or simply my unaided eyes, I am very familiar with the sky. I hoped he would relate some interesting Hawaiian sky lore while on the stand, a new legend or two. What I heard instead was a mangled version of astronomy that would embarrass any ancient Polynesian navigator.

Mr. Michael Lee was offered as a witness by Harry Fergerstrom, one of the more extreme participants in the ongoing contested case hearing. It is no surprise that this witness would espouse some of the more interesting claims made against the TMT project. I expected some wild claims, I was surprised at just how wild.

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A Little Icy…