We learned a lot from our ranger-hike, but it didn’t fit into the post. Here is more detail of what we’ve learned:

  • Dean wore an SOmonitor, but on our visit to Costa Rica, we smelled Hydrogensulfide (H2S). Volcanos emit different types of sulfur compounds depending on the availability of water. At Kilauea, the water table is 1700ft below the surface, so the heat of the magma burns the sulfur into Sulfurdioxide. With the availability of water, Hydrogensulfide would be created.
  • In the caldera, we found tangles of very thin silica glass strands, about the thickness of hair. Locals call it “Pele’s Hair”, referring to the fire goddess Pelehonuamea (or “Pele” for short) whose home is in Kilauea. To us science geeks, it’s a silica glass strand created by the heat of the volcano.
  • Apropos Pele: We have heard many stories about her, and she is a feisty lady, prone to furious outbursts. In one legend, she turns a beautiful young man (Lehua) into an ugly tree because he refused her advances. When Lehua’s partner Ohia finds out, the other gods take pity on her and turn her into a beautiful flower on the tree, so the loving pair can be forever united (That’s how the Ohia Lehua tree was created). In another story, the gods preclude Pele from killing a young couple by turning the man into a half flower in the mountain (where Pele almost caught up with him) and his lover into another half-flower in the valley. I sure hope that Pele never takes any interest in me.
  • There is a tree endemic to Hawaii called “Ohia Lehua” which has adapted well to life on a volcano: It can grow in plain lava and is thus often the first growth on new lava flows. It also has the ability to close its leaves’ pores when toxic gases are too high (Ranger Dean: “It can hold its breath for days on end”) and sprouts new roots from the top of the tree if disturbed by rock fall. We saw plenty of examples of the extra roots, but on our hike the second day, we saw a toppled tree that had five new trees growing from the (now horizontal) trunk.
  • When species first arrived, there were no predators, so species developed a mutually beneficial relationships. One example is the Hawaiian Honeycreeper, a song bird with a curved beak, which fits perfectly with several flower’s curvature. As the bird is drinking the nectar, the plant taps it on the head to deposit its pollen on the bird. Other plants have similarly curved flowers, but they tap a different part of the bird to prevent cross-pollination among the flower species.
  • The park, and all of Hawaii, is now using conservation techniques to counter invasive species (like boars, mongoose etc). Most (all) of these techniques were adopted from New Zealand, which has started its program more than a decade ago. We saw the effect of one example, an exclusion fence, from the Jagger museum parking lot. Looking towards Mauna Loa, there was a sharp dividing line between lush rain forest and barren, grazed-over land. It might have been farm land, but I like to believe it’s the exclusion fence doing its job.
  • One of the first invasive animals was a rat which is capable of doubling its population every few days. To control it, people brought over mongoose to control the rat population. Problem is that the rats were nocturnal while the mongoose are active during the day, so the rats kept proliferating while the mongoose started decimating native species, who didn’t know any predators.