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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Observance of the ocean

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A diver services sensors at Kilo Nalu Reef Observatory.

Photos courtesy Geno Pawlak and the Hawai'i and Pa

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"The Kilo Nalu Reef Observatory: A Window Into Hawai'i's Coastal Environment"

6 p.m. tomorrow

Outrigger Waikiki, Kalakaua Meeting Room

2335 Kalakaua Ave.


Free. Validated parking is $5.

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Hawai'i Ocean Observing System's series of public talks highlights what UH-Manoa researchers are learning about Hawai'i's waters. Talks are at 6 p.m. every second Wednesday at Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. www.hioos.org.

  • Sept. 10: "How Local Rain Events Affect Greenhouse Gas in the Atmosphere," Eric Heinen De Carlo, professor, Department of Oceanography, UH-Manoa.

  • Oct. 8: "Tracking Tuna and Sharks Around Hawai'i and the Pacific," Kim Holland, researcher, Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, UH-Manoa.

  • Nov. 12: "EARs in the Sea: What Listening to Shrimp, ish and Whales Can Tell Us About Their World," Marc Lammers, assistant researcher, Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, UH-Manoa.

  • Feb. 11, 2009: "Water Quality and Health of Hawai'i's Coastal Recreational Waters," Grieg Steward, assistant professor, Department of Oceanography, UH-Manoa.

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    Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

    Divers deploy the REMUS Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to collect data on the seabed, water quality and currents.

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    Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

    The cylindrical housings that form the main junction box at Kilo Nalu, connecting the sensors to the power supply on shore and transmitting data to the shore station computer.

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    Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

    University of Hawai'i divers install wells on the ocean floor to collect samples for research at Kilo Nalu Reef Observatory.

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    When Geno Pawlak goes looking for wave action, he dives 40 feet beneath the ocean surface and leaves his board at home.

    Instead of South Shore breaks such as Bowls or Kewalos, the University of Hawai'i-Manoa associate professor heads out to the ocean fronting Kaka'ako Waterfront Park, where an underwater observatory hums, quietly collecting data on nearshore coral reef.

    What happens there and how it affects the everyday lives of Hawai'i's residents is the topic of "The Kilo Nalu Reef Observatory: A Window into Hawai'i's Coastal Environment," the first in a series if public lectures about Hawai'i's dynamic ocean environment, tomorrow at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. The series is a part of Outrigger's observance of the Year of the Coral Reef.

    "The Kilo Nalu Observatory functions as an extension cord that enables us to put instruments into the ocean," Pawlak said. "Information we collect from these instruments (which is then sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) can report how big the waves will be, how good the swell is. We can also measure water quality, temperature, salinity and turbidity, or how much 'stuff' is floating around in the ocean - which is useful for divers to know."

    While such information has both sports and commercial value, what Pawlak and his team are looking at scientifically is more complex.

    "The reef and sand are reservoirs for ocean nutrients." Pawlak said

    "What we're trying to understand is how the movement of water across the reef affects the exchange of nutrients in the sand and the coral; in other words, what happens to the biological activity when the waves pick up? How are the nutrients broken down and recycled through the seabed?"

    Pawlak grew up in Panama and has spent all his life around the ocean. He is an ocean engineer - a specialist in fluid mechanics - fascinated by how waves and currents flow across boundaries such as coral reefs, and the interactions that take place.

    So, what shape are our reefs in?

    "Our reefs are taxed, but it's remarkable that in an urban environment we can actually go offshore 100 yards and find a live coral reef," Pawlak said. "What the Kilo Nalu observatory tells us is that ocean conditions are highly variable with day-to-day change. As an ocean state, we need to be in touch directly. The ocean is dramatically more complex than we ever envisioned."

    Reach Chris Oliver at coliver@honoluluadvertiser.com.