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Daily Blog for John Thornton O'Connor

Hexacopters, Kites, and more GIS

Posted on June 28, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor


I spent much of this morning with Dr. Lipo calibrating and testing the hexacopter.  The professor had installed a new motor and several adjustments had to be made in order for the unit to function properly.  We will be attaching two GoPro cmaeras, one with color-infrared modification, for aerial stereoscopic imagery.  Once the aerial equipment was operating, our archaeological research team spent time coordinating our work.  The nature of our specific research interests has resulted in complementary projects.  We will be giving an “in-progress” presentation on our research tomorrow.  General outlines of our projects can be found at Projects->Prehistoric Agricultural Fields on the main page of the NSF REU site.  The afternoon was spent in the field flying an alternate kite rig.  The kite design itself appeared a more stable substitute to the previously employed kite unit.  However, the line and rig was not modified to exploit the dynamic wind conditions and our line broke shortly after lift-off.  The kite and cameras were recovered and will be used with a stronger set-up later in the week.  Check out this photo of an iwa courting our research kite.

This evening, imagery was reviewed and compiled for presentation.  I played around with digital elevation models but was not able to achieve the results I expected.  I did succeed in finding multispectral band mixes that helped to visualize basalt features from Worldview satellite data.  I will be exploring LIDAR information later in the week and comparing these classes of data for the revelation of obscured archaeological structures.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

Georectification and hillshades

Posted on June 27, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

I have spent the majority of today manipulating KAP (kite aerial photography) acquired imagery for the creation of DEMs (digital elevation models) of Hoouluia heiau.  Lawrence, Paul, and I started with the georectification of aerial photographs previously aligned in Agisoft Photoscan.  The image was tied into GPS coordinates obtained with a Trimble GeoXH which allows the merging of pictures with other georeferenced images such as Worldview satellite data.  Following georectification, we attempted to develop a DEM of the heiau.  My goal was to explore the value of slope and aspect analysis as a tool for extracting topographical information from imagery that otherwise appears as a featureless conglomerate of rocks.  A point cloud was imported into ArcMAP, and a good portion of the day was spent interpreting the information.  We did not succeed in constructing relevant slope and aspect models for Hoouluia, thus showing that this approach to spatial analysis may not be the most helpful.  LIDAR data may then prove to be the best method for creating 3-dimensional models of large basalt structures.  However, simple hill-shade modeling did create useful data when revisiting the information in Agisoft Photoscan.  The resulting images (see example below) could prove fruitful in the observation of structural attributes not readily visible from nadir perspective photographs.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

Koloa Field System

Posted on June 26, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

The archaeological team began the day with a tour through the Koloa field system guided by Dr. Hal Hammatt of Cultural Surveys Hawaii. The Koloa field system comprises the remainder of what was once an extensive complex of irrigated pond fields (loi), habitation sites, and heiaus.  We walked the irrigation system while referencing an archaeological survey map created prior to large-scale development in the area (see photos).  Imaging was recorded for large portions of the complex using Chuck’s kite and Dave’s fixed-wing.  Aerial photographs will be posted as they become available.


The extent of Hawaiian agricultural investment in drier areas such as Koloa was made possible through the use of intricate irrigation systems.  The full range of these systems can be captured from high elevation photography and multispectral applications.  The KAP and fixed-wing approaches were successful today.  Documentation of these archaeological features will continue throughout the week with other airborne remote-sensing platforms.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

Nani loa na pali

Posted on June 25, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

Aloha kakou,

Today we visited Nualolo.  We met the crew from Captain Andy’s at Kikiola and were on our way by 6am.  The morning was overcast, but the skies gradually cleared as the day warmed up.  We traveled up Na Pali and into Nualolo Kai.  Nualolo Kai is a shallow amphitheater of a valley and shares its name with the much larger Nualolo Aina next door.  Prior to Euro-american encroachment into the Hawaiian Islands, both valleys operated in unison with Aina functioning as a large-scale agricultural center and Kai providing ocean derived sustenance and canoe harbor.  Nualolo continued as a habitation site well into the 20th century.  However, the valleys are not currently occupied and are instead maintained by Hawaii State Parks and the continued dedication of multiple grassroots organizations.  Nualolo is a treasure to Kauai and we are very lucky to have visited this special place.


Tomorrow, we are back to the field.  We will be again focusing on aerial photography.  KAP and the remote controlled single-wing will be employed for remote sensing observation of archaeological features along the Hapa Trail in Koloa.  Pictures will be posted as they become available.  Hope you had a great weekend.  A hui hou.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

Waimea and Poipu

Posted on June 24, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor


Today was scheduled as an off-day.  First thing in the morning we headed up to Waimea Canyon.  Matt Lucas educated us regarding the plant communities at different elevation levels as we ascended the canyon grade.  We saw several Iliau (Kauai green sword/Wilkesia gymnoxiphium) in bloom, and Matty discussed the life-cycle, establishment patterns, and regional distribution of the beautiful Ohia lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha).  We traveled farther up the canyon and witnessed the change in floral communities as we arrived into the wet mesic habitat that characterizes the higher elevations above Na Pali.  The Kokee Museum was packed with visitors and we stopped by to make a donation to Hui o Laka.  Please visit for more information about ongoing projects at Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.

Following our brief jaunt into the canyon, we journeyed back across coffee country and headed down to Poipu Beach.  One of our esteemed graduate assistants pointed out a poster describing others’ use of airborne sensing platforms in the area (see below) during our return to Mahaulepu.  We had a good laugh.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the beach.  Many thanks to the professors and grad students for their support during this program!  Tomorrow we head to Nualolo, a very special place in the islands.  E mau ana ke ea o ka aina i na hanauna o ka wa mamua.  E malama pono.

–  John Thornton O’Connor


Quarry surveys and the Gatewing x100

Posted on June 24, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

Post for 6-22-12, delayed due to technical difficulties:

Friday morning, our research group took an excursion to the Grove Farms Quarry located adjacent to Makauwahi Cave for a reconnaissance survey.  GPS points were taken for various features as we attempted to locate other natural resources.  We viewed the location of what was once Waiopili heiau, a large hoouluulu structure that was positioned where the regional stream system previously met the ocean.  The heiau had been destroyed several decades ago by the landowners as a way of avoiding possible cultural and political resistance to alternative land use.  A large section of the land was subsequently converted into a limestone quarry.  A few heiau stones were identified, but the land has been heavily scarred by mining use (see below).


Dr. Burney hopes to convert much of the carved-out land into a wetland preserve similar to what previously existed there.  After checking out the lower quarry, we proceeded to the upper quarry as accessed from the Makauwahi trail.  Similar survey activities were completed for this area, and we chased a goat that the Burneys wish to remove from the property.  We didn’t catch the goat.

Today was also the first flying of the Gatewing x100.  Dr. Lee, Dr. Wechsler, and Ted Ralston spent the morning assembling and programming the unit.  We joined the professors later in the afternoon.  The Gatewing x100 is a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that can be equipped with different cameras for the acquisition of complex aerial imagery.  The unit operates according to a predetermined flight path programmed by the research team.  Dr. Wechsler programmed the unit to fly transects over Makauwahi Cave, the vegetation grid, and adjacent agricultural fields.  Images were recorded in real-color and near-infrared at 5 centimeter resolution from an altitude of 150 meters.  The first x100 mission was aborted early and landed without a problem.  The second mission went off without a hitch and was great to watch.  The recorded images will allow detailed mapping for the area.  Below are photos of the x100 on its launcher, immediately post-launch, and during an overhead fly-by.


–  John Thornton O’Connor

Hoouluia orthophotos, point cloud generation, and canoes

Posted on June 22, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

Aloha kakou,

PAP (pole aerial photography) was not sufficient, but the KAP (kite aerial photography) imaging worked.  I had previously mentioned the inadequate results from my PAP documentation of Hoouluia heiau.  This morning, I started playing around with photographs taken from Chuck Devaney’s kite.  Two hundred sixty-three photos were recorded on a Canon G12 attached to a 3 meters kite from an altitude of approximately 400 feet.  Our archaeology group sequenced the photos in Agisoft Photoscan.  Avery and Sam imported all of the photos into Photoscan software initially having issues with the output.  I went for a minimal approach and sequenced 14 photographs resulting in a great image of the heiau (see below).


Sam is currently rerunning the large photo set and we should have some more refined images of the heiau from her work.  However, I was able to export a point cloud from this basic sequence and will be working on DEMs (digital elevation models) to illustrate architectural attributes of this structure.

After spending most of the day in a computer lab, I was drafted away from my research group by the hydrology team for canoe help.  We met with some of the members of Kukuiula Canoe Club and attached water sensors to the back of several outrigger canoes.  The canoes towed the sensors for several miles, thus recording information about water temperature and salinity at different subsurface freshwater outlets along the coast.  The canoes served well as research vessels and the hydrology team was happy with the data collection.  Tomorrow, I will be back working with the arch group while we plan for more aerial photography and check out some new locations.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

PAP at Hoouluia

Posted on June 21, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor


Today, our archaeological team recorded images for Hoouluia heiau at Mahaulepu using a pole-aerial-photographic (PAP) approach.  A GoPro HERO2 camera was affixed to the top of a large carbon fiber pole approximately fifteen feet in height.  The camera was positioned facing perpendicular to the ground and photos were recorded at ten second intervals.  Photos were taken along transects for the makai (towards the sea) half of the structure.  The goal of this exercise was to generate data for the creation of orthophoto and digital elevation model (DEM) imaging for the archaeological structure using basic equipment.  Almost four hundred photos were captured.  Three hundred sixty-eight of these photographs were imported into Agisoft Photoscan, and an orthophoto was created for the recorded portion of the heiau (see below).


I was disappointed with the results of this approach.  These images are not accurate representations of Hoouluia.  The isolated spatial range of this specific PAP acquired imagery and the appearance of the basalt used for heiau construction did not overlap well in the Photoscan software.  I will not be continuing PAP on this archaeological structure.  Instead, I will begin processing data obtained from a kite-aerial-photography (KAP) platform and the other airborne remote sensing units.  These latter approaches will hopefully contribute to more accurate imaging from which pointcloud data can be extracted for DEM analysis.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

Hoouluia, Mahaulepu

Posted on June 20, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor

Good evening,

Data acquisition has commenced and research projects are taking shape.  The plant research team began the day recording spectral signatures for various plant species from the vegetation grid at Makauwahi Cave Reserve.  Our archaeological team joined the hydrology group for a tour of the sinkhole.  Dr. Burney lectured on the natural processes contributing to cave formation in the region.  Following exploration of Makauwahi cave, our entire group walked along the coast to Hoouluia Heiau.  Hoouluia, a general term for a fishing heiau and the name currently identified with this archaeological structure, is a large heiau located on the Mahaulepu Trail approximately 2km from Makauwahi.  Tomorrow we will begin image documentation for this structure by employing pole aerial photography, kite aerial photography, and the single-wing airborne platform described in yesterday’s post.  I plan to compare image resolution among these data acquisition techniques to assess the best method for creating an image collection for basalt archaeological features.  Due to the unique nature of construction materials and techniques, I believe that fine-grained spatial imaging will improve the documentation of features that do not photograph well under normal circumstances.  Below is a photograph of Hoouluia.

–  John Thornton O’Connor

NTBG, Makauwahi, and airborne remote sensing platforms

Posted on June 18, 2012 by John Thornton O'Connor


This morning, our research group became acquainted with the south side of Kauai.  We began our day at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Lawai Valley.  Dr. Burney led us on a tour of the research facilities, and then we headed down into the gardens.  NTBG has acquired a living collection of thousands of plants from around the world.  McBryde Garden itself includes many plants that are actually extinct in the wild and therefore only preserved in botanical research collections such as that at Lawai.  Following a discussion of native, invasive, and Polynesian-introduced plants, our group traveled to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve located just east of Poipu.  We had a quick bite to eat and then spent some time exploring the plant collections around the sinkhole.  Chuck and Dave, fellow UH Manoa students, had just flown over from Oahu with a fixed-wing aircraft and a kite to perform airborne image documentation.  Images had already been recorded for the vegetation grid adjacent to Makauwahi.  However, the wind was up to 30 mph in the afternoon and made further kite flying impossible.  Our group took the equipment into the middle of an agricultural field so that Dave could fly the remote control single-wing.  Below are two photographs of the aerial unit.


The images available from this platform will provide our first information for the field system in Mahaulepu.  I will be posting images as they become available.  Tomorrow will begin with more kite photography as we proceed full speed ahead into our remote sensing data acquisition.

– John Thornton O’Connor

About John Thornton O'Connor

John is an archaeology student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His interests are Oceanic archaeology, evolutionary theory, ocean-adaptive subsistence technologies, and networking systems. John's current research employs a multidimensional approach to artifact analysis for the assessment of inter-assemblage class similarity and cultural transmission networks in East Polynesia.