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California State University, Long Beach
CSULB Geospatial Research and Mapping (GRAM) Field Program
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Daily Blog for Alessandra Pistoia

water in the sky

Posted on June 26, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

After looking at the data from the boat ride and outriggers, we could not see clear transitions of temperature or salinity so we decided that collecting data at a smaller spatial scale might correct for this. The day was spent mostly in water.  Courtney and I used long surf boards with loggers tied to the end to collect data closer to the shore line.  The waves were rough making the ride in difficult.  I landed on rocks and Courtney had to swim to the closest sandy beach.  We both made it safely without any bruises or scratches and with big smiles on our faces.  We had a blast!

Then we moved to another bay area to collect data.  Snorkeling was the preferred method here because it was very shallow and we did not want our expensive loggers to be banging against the ocean bottom.  I collected water samples when I felt the temperature change.  I was weary that I would not be able to feel such a slight change in temperature, but when I got out there it was unbelievable how reactive our bodies are to temperature changes.  My skin could feel cool areas and warm areas.  It was fun to play around with such a reaction.

tree hugger

Posted on June 26, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Dr. Becker is flying back to Long Beach soon, so we spent our day in the lab crunching data.  Although we were all working on our individual projects, there was still constructive communication stemming from each individual which strengthened our broader project.  Later in the day, our group took a trip to the gardens to get more water samples for my project.  Matty, the GIS guru at NTBG, gave us a tour of the gardens and led me to the areas that I needed to sample.  He showed us one of the most exquisite flower I have ever seen.  Words cannot begin to describe it, a picture will have to suffice…

My favorite part of the gardens were these three tall trees with huge roots.  I have always been a huge fan of tress, loving everyone that I see.  I do not like to preference a tree type, but I must say that these were pretty spectacular.  Just don’t tell the trees!

Fun fact: these trees are in Jurassic Park

coast of cliffs

Posted on June 25, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Our day started at 4:45 in the morning.  We headed to Naulolo Kai on the Na Pali Coast; the mode of transportation was a zodiac boat, an inflatable boat with an engine.  If you have never been on a zodiac, the structure of the boat causes the ride to be comparable to off-roading.  All passengers were sitting on the edges of the boat holding on for dear life.  As you can imagine we soon became soaked with ocean spray.  It was delightful! Our captain was kind enough to take us into some caves that were carved into cliff.  My favorite was an open ceiling cave that had deep blue water and a small rock island in the middle.  Here is an aerial image from the internet to give you a better idea of what this looks like…

Once at the beach, we jumped out of the boat and swam to shore.  The beach lays at the foot of the face of a tall cliff, very dramatic scenery.

In the morning hours, there were 3 learning stations set up of which we  were free to pick our preference: how to pump a well/irrigate, ground penetrating radar (GPR) of a field, and kite flying to gather images of the coast.  I chose to learn how to pump a well in order to irrigate the plants.  We pumped the water into a tank that was at higher elevation than the well and garden; once the tank was full, it released water in intervals where it then finds it way to the garden by gravity.  I also helped with the GPR data collection by manually removing logs and sticks off a field so that the machine rolled on a smoother surface.    Once we were done with the educational portion of our day, we decided to relax and enjoy our location.  There were a variety of activities happening throughout the day: hiking, snorkeling, sun bathing, and napping.  All were done with ultimate enjoyment.  I chose to go on a long snorkel adventure which was well worth the sun burn on my back because I swam with two majestic sea tortoises.  We also found a shallow pool where the water was heated to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, as relaxing as a hot tub!  We found it difficult to leave this cozy area.  A self-centering yoga session on the beach was the perfect way to end our time on the coast.


My major accomplishment for the day was learning how to skip a rounded rock.  Thanks Jesse!

I saw my first sea cucumber today.  What yucky looking rods!


Posted on June 24, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Sights, sand, sun, and snorkel. See ya Indiana!


mariners of the sea

Posted on June 22, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

We were whisked away from our warm beds at 5:30 this morning to go on a fishing boat to observe the coast and tow our loggers to gather data.  Although it was difficult to rise at such an early hour, the sunrise made it well worth the lack of sleep.  

I was in charge of collecting water samples whenever their was a temperature change of a degree or more.  I had to lean over the side of the boat while it was in motion.  Needless to say I got soaked.  It was refreshing!  The waves were so violent that two of our members became sea sick and spent most of the trip leaning over the railing.  Our captain was towing a few lines off the back and after about an hour we caught a 10 pound papio.  She was a beautiful fish, and an even tastier dinner!

We spent the rest of our afternoon inside sorting our collected data on computers.  Since the sky decided to empty all the rain held in its clouds, I did not mind this one bit!

paddling my way to happiness

Posted on June 22, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Today was my favorite day in Kauai thus far.  My morning was spent obtaining spectroscopy data from the rocks we collected the previous day.  Natural lighting is required for the spectrometer to accurately read the subject material, thus we decided to set up our laboratory outside on a veranda that overlooked a lush valley. We listened to great music and had lovely conversation. Even with technological frustration, it was blissful.


For the latter part of our evening, we paddled outriggers in the ocean to collect data using loggers that measure temperature and conductivity every 5 seconds.  I, along with others in the group, had never been on an outrigger before.  A scary thought on such violent waves! Lucky for us, a group of men that belong to an outrigger club on Kauai taught us the mechanics of Hawaii’s state sport.  There are one-man outriggers and six-man outriggers.  As novices, we went in the six-man outrigger to have constant instruction while on the water.

This is by far the coolest sport ever.  I told our steersman (the sixth seat, or the man behind me) that I would be moving to Kauai to join the team.  He gave a light chuckle and welcomed me to the team.  

After a hard day’s work, we went to a restaurant with some guys from the outrigging team for beer and fish.  It was my first time eating fish on the island.  Mahi Mahi was a great choice.

Death March to Danger Beach

Posted on June 21, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Today was most productive. After assisting in imagery collection at the sacred Hawaiian heiau my geology group continued hiking along Mahalapu coast. Rain is always welcomed by our group; the cool mist refreshes us after hours in the strong sun rays.  For most of the hike we were joined by our pseudo-mascot Simon (brindle colored puppy). Most striking to me was the amount of erosion along the coastal cliff. I think this may be due to layering of limestone and fossilized organic matter as a result the sea level changes combined with the  constant wave action from trade winds and I guess season summer swells. At the end of the day I got to experience this energy first hand as my group was given the opportunity to attempt to swim at shipwrecks beach however these waves were a little much.


Posted on June 20, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

The morning was spent exploring the largest limestone cave in Kauai.  Burney guided us through the cave while telling stories about its history; at one point this was a ritual place for a soothsayer.  The most common fossil found inside of the cave are palm trees.  Burney has made efforts to plant native vegetation outside of the cave to mimic what it may have looked like in the past.  The outside of the cave is below with the common palm trees…

Our sack lunch came with a side of sand while we sat on the beach; it was much welcomed.  Our feet soaked in the saltwater as we wiggled sand between each and every toe!  After, we hiked the coast line where constant scenic views were had.  We were scoping out the rock type to ground proof observations made from aerial photos.  My group had to go home early to cook taco Tuesday for the group.  To say the least, it was a huge success!


Lotus Love

Posted on June 19, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

We spent the morning touring the National Botanical Garden (NTBG).  It is a very special place where many rare native plants live.  The garden was first owned by the McBryde family and then sold to Robert Allerton.  After Allerton passed away, the property was left as a trust; in the 1990s NTBG formally assumed management of the garden.  *For more history…

As we wandered through the garden, we stumbled upon a magical lotus pond.  This was not just an lotus garden, there was something pure about its essence.  The moment my eyes met the patch of bright green with big pink splashes of lotuses, it instantly reaffirmed that the lotus was my favorite flower.  I have always appreciated the Buddhist  concept of the lotus, or padma, symbolizing purity and beauty due to the fact that it grows from the depth of murky water.  Beauty can grow in the least likely places.

I met three new friends today.  This 175 lb big guy is named Cal.  All tortoises were of different size; Cal is the largest and coolest.  They were placed on the NTBG property be, interestingly, tortoises will only eat nonnative plants.  I am not exactly sure how this works out, but my observations led me to affirm that they were doing just that.

To conclude the work day, we flew a kite and airplane that had capabilities to take aerial photos of the ground below.  We are hoping to use one or both of these to collect data for our projects.

Don’t worry, be happy

Posted on June 17, 2012 by Alessandra Pistoia

Spent the day flying. Aloha, friends!

With the 3 hour time difference, we ended up getting to Hawaii around lunch time. David and Lida Burney, who oversee educational programs at the National Botanical Garden, welcomed us to the island and kindly drove us to our home for the next two weeks.  It is a comfortable house that sleeps 7 people, with a nice living room and a kitchen.  There is also a weather port, which is basically a large tent, that sleeps the rest of the group.  When we walked into our new abode, we were greeted by Mary, the lovely woman buying our groceries; her warming personality made me feel right at home.

After snacking on meat, cheese and fruit, we trekked outside to explore the surrounding area. We hiked on the road to the nearest little town.  The strangest/greatest (these two feelings often occur simultaneously for me) sight was a very hungry and ambitious billy goat who had jumped onto a car in order to straddle its body over a fence in order to munch on some prime greens.  He made eating look like an art. Learning life lessons from a billy goat.

We celebrated our arrival with a grill feast fit for kings!  Sausages, chicken, pasta salad, red peppers, asparagus, and pineapple.  The night ended with a talk from David Burney.  Let me tell you, this man beholds a great wisdom within.  My favorite quote from the night was ,”worrying is the worst thing you can do to yourself; don’t worry too much, but don’t be dumb.”

About Alessandra Pistoia

I am an Environmental Biology major and Mathematics minor at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. This project will be my fifth research experience, but first REU. After graduation, I intend to work and enjoy my youth for a few years, then go to graduate school to further my education.