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Daily Blog for James Douglas


It All Comes Together

Posted on June 29, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was the day we all were to present our findings at Kualoa Ranch for everyone, the archaeology field school, and assorted interested people. I woke up at 8 and started cleaning up my products. I realized I was going to have to shorten my presentation because we had to fit our talk into a 10 minute time slot, so I reduced it by 7 or 8 slides. Reading over the paper I had almost finished last night was hilarious- I had been writing stream of consciousness style and switched between four different tenses. I cleaned it up and added my figures, tables, and appendices, and finally it was all done. The last little thing to do was to clean up all my data so that the professors could review our process.  It was a huge weight off my shoulders to finally have every assignment completed.

At around 1 ‘o clock we loaded up into the vans and drove over to Kualoa. We assembled in the dining hall that serves meals to tourists and guests of the Ranch, and there was a projector set up at one end. As we settled down and Dr. Lipo gave an introduction of the program, I began to feel the anxiety that accompanies every public speech or presentation. The presentations were organized by general focus, and the progression went vegetation, hydrology, terrain, and finally archaeology. It was really exciting to see what everyone had been up to and hear a formal presentation of their findings. Everyone did a really awesome job with their presentations and it was impressive to sit back and see what we had all accomplished in just 3 weeks of work (imagine what we could have done with a whole summer).

At around 5, the last of the presentations wrapped up and we took the obligatory group photo outside the building. After a few minutes of hanging around we took a drive south to a fancy restaurant. Cole managed to drop his flash drive in the water in this landscaped pond/garden outside the restaurant, which was funny. I ate some delicious fried calamari and a tomato based fish stew which was equally tasty. After dinner we headed back to Tradewinds and celebrated in proper fashion with each other. I can’t believe it’s all over!

The Final Countdown

Posted on June 29, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was the last day we had to work on our projects before the presentations tomorrow. I worked for 18 straight hours (and had dinner duty- we cooked up some delicious burgers made from Kualoa cows) and fell asleep at 3am with nothing finished. :(

Hit Head Against Wall. Pull Head Back. Repeat.

Posted on June 27, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was the first of two days dedicated to pulling our projects together. The more I thought about the toolset I had spent so much time working on, the more I came to realize it was relatively useless in providing helpful information for calculating water balance. The numerous scale issues, a complete lack of vegetative inputs, my inability to calibrate the solar radiation maps, and a lack of understanding of the outputs under further scrutiny left me feeling like I was back at square one! It was pretty frustrating, but I started to put together some preliminary maps so that I could at least talk about the data that I had collected, the inputs used, and if worst came to worst at least detail my failures.

During the morning I also retrieved (and by that I mean Emily- thanks!) a levelogger that I  had placed in the stream (jk, that was Emily again) a few days back. The logger recorded data on stage, temperature, and conductivity. Since we had actually gotten some significant rain over this period, I was curious to see what the results held. It was nice to be able to actually make some progress in dealing with real field data, although I am not sure how helpful it will be in the grand scheme of things. One interesting thing I pulled out of the data was an inverse relationship between stage and conductivity during spikes in flow, which although isn’t a result that is overly surprising, is something I can at least talk about in my presentation. I also sat down and crunched the numbers on the discharge readings that I took yesterday, and it was nice to get some quantitative data organized and somewhat processed. I also made an attempt to correct the data for baseflow conditions by comparing the velocity reading from the thalweg from yesterday with an old reading I took last week while attempting to get elevation data. Although I don’t know accurate the adjustment is, I feel like it gets me as close as I’m gonna get.

I managed to get Dr. Wechsler free for a while and discussed my frustrations. After some exploration of the model and its confusing and overly simplistic outputs, her advice was to approach my project from the perspective of explaining the hydrology to the best of my ability, and to talk about the shortcomings of the model, the existing data, and provide recommendations for future study. Although this was a disappointing conclusion to reach, I realized that given the time constraints this was at least a viable and reasonable alternative, and I could leave the REU with the new knowledge I had gained about GIS and research in general.

I continued (trying) to focus on the project until dinner, and after dinner I learned that Dr. Becker would be paying us all a visit (yay!). He made his rounds and when he got to me, we discussed the limitations of the model, and he gave me some helpful tips in making use of the discharge data. We used a combination of ArcGIS tools, precip data, and mass balance calculations to estimate the difference between the observed discharge and what a theoretical discharge would be ignoring infiltration, interception, and other real world factors. This helped us start to quantify how much of the precipitation was making it to the stream as baseflow. Turns out only about 12-14% of the average precipitation is making it to the stream as measurable flow. I also managed to find a paper where mass balance calculations had been run on the watersheds on the windward side of Oahu (score!). This allowed me to fall back on some literature for what might be expected for the relative breakdown of water movement through the watershed- runoff, gw recharge, and evapotranspiration. This was quite a breakthrough, and so I ran through some calculations that I could actually present. It’s been quite a long day, and honestly I’m about ready to present this thing, but there’s still a lot of work to do tomorrow… but now for sleeeeeeeeeeeep

The Last Day of Fieldwork (!)

Posted on June 26, 2013 by James Douglas

Today I rolled over after a night of extremely strange dreams to see two professor’s cars and one of the group minivans in the lot outside the barn. Thinking I had timed my morning perfectly I checked my phone to receive a rude awakening- it was 10 am! Somehow I had slept through an alarm and all of the morning happenings and missed the cars going out to the field. Luckily, I was able to get a ride from Emily who stayed back at the barn to help those who were analyzing data (because people in the field had forgotten things). Eventually, I was able to make it out to Ka’a’awa valley and get to work measuring a stream cross section and acquiring velocity measurements. I walked with Julianna to one of the locations in the stream with a defined channel to maximize the accuracy of the readings I took. Most of the stream channel throughout the valley is either too flat, or too spread out across a wide channel to get meaningful data. Therefore, this was basically the only place in the valley to get a meaningful sample of stream discharge.

Unfortunately, over the past day or so, heavy rains in the valley had finally managed to bring the streamflow up, meaning that our values would not accurately reflect stream baseflow, which was the entire goal of collecting discharge measurements in the first place. Regardless, we got down to business and started measuring depths and velocities at regular intervals to get what we could get on likely our last field day of the REU. Given that we had been able to take a velocity/depth reading at the same location (at the Thalweg point) at baseflow conditions, a reasonable estimation of baseflow could be estimated by normalizing between the differences in depth and velocity between the previous measurement and today’s. After this was completed, I ventured to the Western extent of the watershed to see how the flow was varying in the tributaries. It was interesting to note the changes in the surface hydrology today given that there had been no discernible differences unto this point despite the occurrence of periodic rain events throughout the study period. This made me think about the importance of vegetation distribution (both species wise and density) to the calculations of PET in the water balance model that I was employing, and how vegetation had been completely left out. It seemed naiive to me that one could ignore the factors of interception and plant moisture demand on water flow patterns in a system as small as the Ka’a’awa watershed when calculating water balance. It is certainly something that I will have to mention both in my final presentation and write up.

On a side note, it was interesting to observe that even with the increase in baseflow, the strange pattern of disappearance and reappearance of flow in the main stream channel was still apparent. Although the water was deeper in the upper section of stream, the water still ran underground at the geologic contact between the old and new alluvium, and reappeared in pretty much the same location along the road West of basecamp. I think that Dr. Becker’s hypothesis of a geology driven disappearance of flow and re-emergence correlated with high density sediment/geology is sound, however it was curious to note that the flow was not significantly higher in the lower reach of stream post-re-emergence. This seems to suggest to me that there is a relatively long residence time in this period of groundwater flow along the main channel, otherwise I would have noticed increased flows in the lower stream reach.

After returning from the field, I finally had access to the 5m DEM that I had been waiting for (still waiting on more accurate precipitation data that I know already exists!), and decided to run the toolset again to compare the differences. I also ran a flow accumulation model for the watershed with the updated DEM to model the drainage area that contributed to the location I sampled discharge from, so that I could compare expected and observed surface flow readings. Basically I just had time to run the toolset before I got too tired, so the analysis and comparison will have to wait until tomorrow.

A Day of Small Frustrations

Posted on June 26, 2013 by James Douglas

Today I spent another day at the barn because I felt like I could accomplish more here than out in the field. I started out the day trying to identify all the ways in which my model was faulty so that I could then go through the process of trying to fix it. The first thing that I realized was that my solar radiation calculations- done using spatial analyst- could be calibrated to the region in which my water balance was being calculated (or so I thought). The basic idea was that diffuse solar radiation and solar transmissivity varies depending on your location relative to the sun, and this difference can have a pronounced effect on the overall PET of the system. In order to perform this correction, a calibration had to be performed using the established values of a solar radiation collection station near the study area. I went through the process outlined by the creator of the model, however ArcMap kept crashing when I had to run the batch edit that compared all possible permutations of the pertinent variable. This meant that all of the work I had done for the past three hours was useless. I threw up my hands and surrendered to the frustrations of data analysis.

This setback was especially problematic because calibrated solar radiation rasters were essential to the process of creating PET adjustment coefficients for the model run on watersheds outside of the NE US. This left me with relatively little to do for the rest of the day. However, I remembered that Dr. Wechsler had said the an updated 5m DEM was going to be available soon and so I created a set of models that would produce updated outputs from the water balance toolset if this new data was made available before the project deadline. This took up the rest of my work day. In the evening, I talked to Dr. Becker, who reminded me that I should get at least one  discharge reading that I could compare with the water balance toolset. Embarrassed that I had forgotten about this, I agreed, and we decided to accomplish this task on the last field day (!) tomorrow. He also sent me a link to a paper that had been published on surface groundwater contributions to Kahana bay, which is a bay on Oahu that we drive by everyday on the way to the Ka’a’awa, and one that is controlled by many of the same hyrdrogeological processes as the environment that we are studying. It was a very interesting read, and one that opened my eyes to both what can be accomplished in terms of hydrological study in an environment as complex as this, as well as the inadequacies of this REU environment for legitimate scientific progress.

This accomplished, I set my sights on another day in Oahu- partly comprised of data collection and partly comprised of data analysis.

Seein the Sights

Posted on June 24, 2013 by James Douglas

Today we woke up at 5 to drive out to Hanauma Bay. It is a reef that is supposed to have some of the best snorkeling on the island, but it gets pretty crowded so our strategy was to try and beat the crowds. It worked pretty well, as there were only 20 or 30 people there when we got there. The choral was mostly damaged, however the fish were really cool. I saw the state fish of Hawaii, humuhumu-nukunuku-apua’a, along with numerous other reef species, and two sea turtles. At about 10 we left the reef and went to get some food. We stopped at this place called Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, and it was delicious. Then it was off to Pearl Harbor, which was something we felt like we should do before we left the island. It was interesting, but pretty busy so there was no opportunity to go to the memorial or see Ford Island. In addition, most of the cool exhibits cost $10 or so each so I decided to enjoy the free stuff. After a couple hours there, we drove over to Waikiki to enjoy the beach, and hung out there until dinner. I decided to find some sushi with a couple of the other guys in the area. The sushi was alright but I was kind of disappointed considering we were in hawaii. Overall, it was pretty awesome day off, and I was glad to make a full day out of it.

Second Birthday Saturday of the REU

Posted on June 24, 2013 by James Douglas

Today I spent another day at the barn processing data. I finally found some downloadable temperature data, although it wasn’t even collected in the Valley. Kualoa Ranch headquarters had kept a record of daily temperature, and so I downloaded the daily record for all of 2011. From there, I reduced the tables into monthly averages, and created 12 monthly rasters of the entire study area, of which every grid cell was comprised of he same value. Although this was not the most desirable result, it did allow me to go ahead and run the Water Balance Toolset. With all the data I needed, I ran through the steps and was able to achieve maps of monthly actual evapotranspiration (AET), potential evapotranspiration (PET), soil water storage, deficit, and surplus, annual AET, and annual PET. It was satisfying to finally have some results to work with.

After I completed this, the group met up to discuss our progress so far with our individual projects. It was nice to hear what everyone had been up to this week, especially when I had spent the last two days in the barn. After the discussion, we were set free, so to speak, and told that we had time off until Monday morning. The rest of the evening was spent celebrating Cole’s brithday, which was fun.

Da Data Day (Day to day)

Posted on June 22, 2013 by James Douglas

Today I decided not to go out in the field and instead work on data analysis. Even though I had found a toolbox that would calculate water budget, I had to find all the pertinent datasets and transform them into the correct form for the toolbox. Over the course of the day, I was able to acquire and prepare solar radiance, precipitation, DEM, and soils data. The remaining dataset is temperature, which has proven to be hard to find. After consulting with Dr. Wechsler, the plan is to find temperature data associated with the local NOAA weather stations, and use Theissen polygons to interpolate the temperature across the valley. One of the biggest issues that I have come to recognize about this project is the issue of temporal scale, and how this affects the accuracy and applicability of my water balance model. However, I am still glad to have the opportunity to do real field research in a place as spectacular as the Ka’a’awa valley, and am enjoying the learning experience.

Oh My God Its Thursday Already

Posted on June 21, 2013 by James Douglas

Today the goal was to try to figure out what was wrong with the elevation data from yesterday and try to see if more accurate elevation data could be determined. We drove to Dr. Becker’s rented house right outside the ranch and had a discussion with him about what had gone wrong with the data from yesterday and how it was uncertain that even with post-processed data that the elevations garnered from the Trimble’s would yield results that would significantly improve the DEM. Because he didn’t have enough field experience with the GPS units, me and Julianna were referred to Dr. Wechsler, who after a fair amount of familiarization with the data, agreed that we were probably right but that we should correct the data before making any definite conclusions. However, while talking with Dr. Wechsler, she suggested I become more familiar with water budgets on my own and a cursory google search revealed an ArcToolbox for generating water budgets. This relieved a lot of pressure for me, because now I had a defined and tested methodology for pursuing my research question. So it was back to Dr. Becker’s (who had internet) to post-process the data. After the processing, the data still looked unusable. We worked with Paul for a while to see what data points were sensible and which ones were most likely erroneous, but there seemed to be no systematic way to eliminate data or any real pattern at all to the errors. This led us to the conclusion that the GPS unit itself must be faulty, so we decided to test this theory by retaking the most erroneous points with another unit. This consumed the rest of the field day, as at first the unit wouldn’t function properly, and after the issues were hammered out only an hour of field time remained.

Later that evening, we performed a differential correction to the new data, and the results were slightly more accurate (seeming to support our earlier theory about the faulty unit) but were nonetheless still unusable as a method for correcting the DEM. This left me and Julianna relatively frustrated, and the only reasonable conclusion from two (invaluable) days of field work was that the methods that we had pursued were fruitless. Luckily for me, a water budget could most likely be effectively estimated from existing data, but I sympathized with Julianna, whose research question functioned on a much smaller scale, and whose project could have benefited from more accurate elevation data. Dr. Wechsler spent some time with me delving into the NOAA datasets of precipitation data for Oahu, but we quickly became too exhausted to make any significant progress. Tomorrow my plan is to focus on conducting research into finding existing datasets and/or researching ways to make existing data work for my purposes in estimating a water budget for the Ka’a’awa valley before time runs out.

When I grow up I want to science like you

Posted on June 20, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was the first real day of field work where we were pursuing our individual projects. I teamed up with Julianna because our projects require some similar data collection. Our task for the day was to try to collect data to correct the existing DEM by walking up the stream corridor and taking points to characterize the elevation change. We started as close as we could get to the outlet of the main channel- we were stopped by a fence that prevented access to the stream as it crossed into private property. I feel like this might technically be a violation of the law, but I guess I don’t really know the laws regarding public access to water in Hawaii. Anyway, we slowly began working up the stream, collecting points wherever the topography visibly changed- mainly at the top of riffles. While we were at each point, we recorded various information about the environment for future reference, as well as the temperature, depth, and flow where appropriate. Since we occupied each GPS point for 175 seconds to try and improve accuracy, this was very tedious work. By the end of the work day, however, we had worked more than halfway up the channel and collected 36 points, and I felt satisfied with the amount of work we had accomplished.

The next step was to see if any of the data we had collected would be useful. After dinner, I exported the data into a shapefile so we could assess the Z-values that we had obtained. However, after laying the points over the DEM and comparing the elevation values to the GPS data, we realized that the DEM recorded its values in Mean Sea Level, while the GPS recorded values in the Height above Ellipsoid. This meant that the values were essentially in a different unit, and in order to convert one to the other, we required the Geoid Height. Although theoretically, this is a simple task of subtraction, the Geoid Height is not a value that is kept in a database like elevation data, so without some further help from the professors, we were stuck. The plan is to try and see if there is an easy way to accomplish the conversion tomorrow morning so that we can assess the accuracy of the GPS data and determine if it makes sense to continue collecting elevation data on the ground. If the error is too great, it doesn’t make sense to continue because we wont be correcting the DEM. I hope this issue can be solved expediently so that the research can continue.

About James Douglas

I am an incoming senior at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse NY majoring in Environmental Science with a concentration in Information and Mapping Technology and an intended minor in Watershed Science. While at school I am an active member of the Syracuse University Outing Club and try to get out and do something with the club at least once a week. My personal hobbies are mainly outdoor in focus, with particular interests in whitewater kayaking, hiking/backpacking, and rock climbing- although I've been known to dabble in caving and mountain biking. I also like to play ultimate frisbee and mess around on a slack line when I get the chance.