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CSULB Geospatial Research and Mapping (GRAM) Field Program
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Daily Blog for James Douglas


And Finally He Ran Out Of Ideas For Blog Titles

Posted on June 19, 2013 by James Douglas

Today we spent the day fleshing out the ideas for our research foci. We started out with a group discussion with all of the professors, where we each presented our ideas informally and received feedback. It was interesting to hear what everyone had come up with, and although the group format left a little to be desired in the way of efficiency, I was personally glad to get to hear everyone’s ideas. After reiterating my interest in hydrology and some discussion, I came around to the idea of trying to calculate the water budget for the watershed. This would not only help further our understanding of the interactions between surface water, ground water, geology, and topography as a group, but lend important information to those working on other hydrology based projects. Although I was still interested in freshwater seeps, I realized quickly that given the overlap between most of the hydrology based projects, I would still get to be involved in the seep research. After a break in the afternoon, the hydrology people met in a smaller group let by Dr. Becker and Dr. Wechsler, and we went over some of the specific methodologies and strategies that would be necessary to complete our research over the next 10 days. It was a very interesting discussion, and I was glad to have the one on one help. Tomorrow I will be focusing collecting ground elevation data within the riparian corridor for the purpose of increasing the accuracy of the DEM. Hopefully this will allow me to conduct more accurate analysis of expected surface water contributions to baseflow within ArcMap.

A Case of the Mondays

Posted on June 18, 2013 by James Douglas

Today we had our first field day since our common product presentations. I still hadn’t really figured out what I was going to do but Dr. Becker and Dr. Wechsler were both going to have their first opportunity to view the valley, and I went around with them . Considering Dr. Becker’s expertise with Geology and Hydrology, he had an interest seeing what we had observed throughout the week, so me and Gordon went around with him to show him some of the highlights. It was really interesting to have the opportunity to view the valley with the two of them, and I gained some new insight. We took a walk up to the top of the ridge again, and I felt lucky to get a second chance to see the awesome view. We drove back to the base for lunch, and hopped on to the vegetation group for a hot minute and listened to the plant experts talk about all the species the vegetation group hadn’t been able to identify. We didn’t stay for the whole tour though, because those of us interested in hydrology went down to the shore to try and take some preliminary conductivity readings. We didn’t identify any seeps, and apparently the shore was a little too choppy to get any definitive readings with the hand probes.

Later at dinner, a couple of us communicated our trepidation and confusion in coming up with a research question, and the professors decided we would have a more in depth discussion on the subject tomorrow morning before anything concrete had to be decided.

Common Product Presentations

Posted on June 17, 2013 by James Douglas

Today we presented the work that we had been doing all week to each other and to the professors. Again, we had some time to finish up work in the morning, so I took the opportunity to sleep in- It was awesome to sleep until noon again as I hadn’t had the chance in a couple of weeks. At about 2:30 everyone gathered in the barn and we ran through all the groups- geology, archaeology, bare ground, vegetation, georeference, hydrology, and UAV. It was really interesting to get to see what everyone had accomplished and it helped round out my understanding of the valley and gave me some insight to my own focus. After each presentation there was lots of thought provoking questions from both us and the professors, which I thought really added to the whole thing. After a break for dinner, we gathered again to discuss potential directions for each of our personal projects. Everyone seemed to be interested in researching the freshwater seeps, so instead of fighting my way into that area I’ll probably focus on understanding more about the hydrology of the watershed. Of particular interest to me is the existence of the wetland area at the back of the watershed. It doesn’t really make sense to me that it would be there and doesn’t seem particularly explained by anything the geology group found. Hopefully with some of the tools we have, especially the UAV’s, I can gather some remotely sensed data that can shed some light on this.

Anniversary Of the First Day of My Existence

Posted on June 17, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was my birthday and overall, it was quite enjoyable. We had a half day of “work” at Tradewinds but I had finished up my common product- at least to the point it could be finished without more field time and knowledge. At about 1 we loaded up into the vans and took a drive to the north shore and hug out at the beach all day. It was quite beautiful and we stayed until it got dark. There was an incredible sunset that rivaled some of the best I’ve ever seen.

*Bonus Post: The Life and Times of (The Great) Jebediah Nephelo

Posted on June 15, 2013 by James Douglas

Jebediah Nephelo (J-Neph to his friends), famed inventor of the Nephelometric Turbidity Unit, was born to Sally and Gregory Nephelo, poor cattle ranchers in North Texas in the year 1931. It was a hard, but simple life, and he grew into a strong boy, passing the time wrestling bears and learning the finer points of advanced water chemistry. Once, just to prove he could, he built a functioning spectromoter from nothing but bendy straws, 7 paper clips, a pound of concrete, and half a pound of copper. He was also renowned for his physical strength, and was famous for his ability to bench press a small car. By the age of 14 he had become disillusioned with the country life and set out on his own. He enrolled in UC-Berkeley at just 15 and had completed his first doctorate in just 18 months. Finding the academic life droll, but somewhat too simple for him, he made his mark on society with his studies in limnology- inventing his own method for measuring turbidity while monitoring fish populations in the boundary waters. The Nephelometric Turbidity Unit has since become the standard unit for classifying turbid waters worldwide. Retiring from professional work to pursue his personal interest of obscure extreme sports accomplishments, he became the first person to climb Mt. Everest walking entirely on his hands, the world record holder for the 30kg midget toss (later renamed the 30 kg little person toss) at 37.6 meters, and the only person to hike across the Andes blindfolded. An all around great man, Jebediah died a hero at the age of 73 trying to single-handedly stop a flaming school bus from falling of a cliff in South America (he was able to save all but three of the children before the weight and the flames proved too much for even him).

The Year of Our Lord, Jebediah Nephelo

Posted on June 15, 2013 by James Douglas

Today we had a short field day to tie up any remaining loose ends with our projects, and to help any groups who needed to still collect data. As the hydrology group, we figured we should collect some more turbidity data, as it was really the only meaningful tool we have to measure water quality (the flow is too low and inconsistent to provide meaningful data). Samples were collected in the inflows and outflows to the lowland swamp area at the back of the watershed. This done, we headed back to base and discovered everyone had left to go look at a laser scanner which was taking readings at the old sugar mill on the ranch. We decided to go try and find some fish ponds that supposedly existed on the north end of the valley, but didn’t have much luck finding them.

At about 12:30, we went back to Tradewinds and spent the rest of the day pulling together the Hydrology dataset. As always, ArcGIS is a giant wormhole capable of bending spacetime and somehow the process took about 6 hours, but overall I am happy with the result. On Sunday I will present but tomorrow I will enjoy my first Saturday being 21.

Just Two Days Left

Posted on June 14, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was an interesting day. Since some people had finished collecting data, the professors shifted some groups around to expedite data collection, and I headed out by myself. My mission for the day was to fill in some small holes in the data and get some points with pictures that would help explain my process in completing the hydrology dataset. Mainly, I needed to justify the conditions that necessitate drawing the drainage channels using the DEM rather than waling the channels with the GPS (too much vegetation). I set out along the south channel to try to retrace my steps, as I figured this would be the best way to avoid missing anything. As I made my way up along the south side, I stopped here and there to take a picture I could later geotag, or to grab a point that was missed earlier. Things started to get interesting as I moved to the back of the watershed. I started to realize something new about the drainage pattern- all the streams at the western extent of the watershed flowed into a wide marshy area before consolidating into a defined channel. I found some new trails hidden in the valley that allowed me to delineate (partially) this marsh. I was excited about this because it gave me new knowledge about the hydrology of the area, and it would certainly be a good thing to show to Dr. Becker, who will be showing up soon and most likely helping me out with my personal research. It required a little bushwacking to get the data, but so has every other stage of this process, so I didn’t mind too much.

Feeling accomplished, I decided to walk over to a movie prop that had been calling me for a few days now. Just West of the “Atlantis” ruins was a big wooden tower that was apparently used in the TV series Lost. I had decided earlier in the week that I would climb it, and figured now was as good a time as any. There was a ladder that went about 1/3 of the way up, but after that I had to scramble up the frame of the tower. It felt good to get to the top, and I looked around, although the view wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I radioed in to the base for a ride back, and waited for Briton to pick me up.

Back at base, there was some cool UAV action going on, and I watched the action unfold. There were three models that were brought in by some Hobbyist that was working with CSULB for the purposes of the project- two that reminded me of stealth bombers, one small (about 2′) and one large (about 4.5′), and another that looked more like a traditional fixed wing aircraft. I got to see the small one fly around and it was pretty cool to see a plane that was piloted solely by a computer program- start to finish. While they worked to set up the bigger plane, I worked with one of the CSULB people to figure out some information that would help in programming the flight pattern. There was a big map that broke up the valley into a grid system, and our task was to find the high and low points of each grid so the pilot could better estimate where to set the flight line to avoid crashes. We used google earth to accomplish the job in a crude, but quick way. Since it was just for reference, apparently it was good enough.

Finally, it was time to try and launch the big UAV, and everyone gathered around to watch. Anti-climatically, the pilot tripped a little when trying to launch the UAV and it nose-dived into the ground before the flight could start. It bent up the plane a little bit, but apparently it was just a 1 day fix. With the big stealth bomber out of commission, the plan was to try and launch the more traditional looking plane, but I didn’t feel like sticking around, so I went home with what turned out to be the majority of our crew. We stopped at a place that served shaved ice on the way home, which seems like the Hawaiian version of Italian Ice- it was pretty delicious.

After dinner, I played around on the slack line one of the students had brought, which was fun. It started getting dark though, so I headed back to the barn, and the grad students were hanging out with us for once. We played some pool, and then they suggested Apples to Apples. It turned into a pretty fun game because everyone joined in- it was really the closest we had come to doing something as a full group. I kind of wanted to keep playing, but the game broke up around 11 and everyone went to bed. Tomorrow I don’t really have any more data to gather so hopefully I’ll be able to focus on processing data and finalizing the hydrology part of the common product with Gordan so I can be ready for my presentation on Sunday. I hope to be done tomorrow so that I can enjoy the half day off on Saturday (my Birthday!) and not have to stress.

Some Days You Write the Blog, Some Days the Blog Writes You

Posted on June 14, 2013 by James Douglas

Sorry for forgetting to blog yesterday, this routine thing isn’t really my strength. So on this day we tried to fill in the gaps in the Hydrology data. One of the areas we new we needed to cover was the main channel, which we were kind of leaving for later because we figured it would be easier (little did we know). One of the grad students, Emily, joined me and Gordan today to give us some help and to show us how to use some of the water quality instruments. We started out in the marshy areas near the bottom of the watershed and took some turbidity readings of the standing water, but quickly gave up because we were unsure where the ranch property ended and we didn’t want to get into any trouble. We moved on to the main stem, trying to start at the beach feeling like it would be easiest to work up from the outlet. Unfortunately, the stream outlet was a thick stand of mangrove trees and this invasive vine which grows all over the island, forming an impenetrable fortress of vegetation. WE spent the next few hours searching for open sections in the vegetation along the main stem that we could map. As it turned out, these sections were few and far between, leaving me relatively frustrated. The invasive vine grew would often grow all the way across the stream channel, reducing the amount of land we could actually map even more than what we had previously thought. We took more turbidity readings occasionally, trying to get a hold of how the suspended sediment levels changed throughout the valley.

After doing all we could on the main stem, we worked our way up a road along the north slope to try and delineate all the channels that fed into the main channel from that side of the valley. One interesting realization I came to during the stream walks was that none of the tributaries seemed to reach all the way to the main stem, yet the main stem was flowing with a strength that exceeded the inputs. This is something that I am considering researching further for my individual project. I don’t know what might result in these conditions, but I can certainly say that this valley is very unique. On a similar note, another anomaly about the valley is that the main stem goes underwater about 2/3rds of the way down the valley, but then resurfaces for the last 1/4 mile to the ocean.

After finishing up the North slope, we kind of ran out of steam and walked over to this mine we had heard about. It was located on the northeast end of the valley close to the ocean, and to my surprise the door was wide open. The mine shaft went back about 100 yards into the hillside and ended in what looked like a control room, with a rudimentary control board, what appeared to be a metal pump of some kind, and an hole in the floor that opened up into what appeared to be a deep pool of water. A pair of swim trunks was laying discarded on the ground next to the hole, which was both strange and kind of creepy. We walked back to base and soon headed back to Tradewinds.

We had free time until after dinner, when Briton and Paul came in to talk to each group and see where we were at. Briton gave me and Gordan some good pointers about what we needed to do to get our dataset ready for Sunday, when we would present our piece of the common product.

Journey to the Edge (of the Watershed)

Posted on June 11, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was another full day of field work. We got to the valley at about 9 am and set out to continue trying to map the hydrology of the valley. Me and Gordon decided we would try to tackle the top of the watershed as best we could. We walked on the road until we came to a confluence of two major tributaries to the main stream channel. After taking a point, we decided to take the north branch and see how far we could follow it. The vegetation was so dense it was surreal- my first real experience with true rainforest jungle.

Welcome to the Jungle

We slogged our way through for about a half hour until the drainage channel got too small and the vegetation too thick to continue. I took a point on the Trimble, and then walked along the channel all the way back to the confluence. The vegetation was so dense and the valley walls so steep that sometimes the GPS couldn’t get signal, but I did the best I could. There were some really cool examples of Hala tree, which has aerial roots that form a cone at the base, and some other trees with crazy pink flowers.

Checking the GPS, we realized we’d covered less than a half mile of the stream, and concluded ground surveying of the streams would be impossible.

We moved south along the road and found some other tribs that crossed the road. Working towards the back of the watershed, we found a road that went uphill, and we took it up the hill to see if we could get some other points. The road ended in a trail that we took to see how far it went up. As it turned out, the trail went all the way to the top of the ridge, and we walked to the high point at the back of the watershed. It was about 800 ft of elevation change in less than a mile, so it was quite a workout. The view at the top was incredible- from the very top we could see all of the Ka’a’awa and two adjacent valleys.

The Valley to the South 
The Ka’a'awa Valley

We ran across some more incredible flora on our way- everything about this valley is incredibly picturesque.

After some lunch up on top of the ridge, we made our way back to the valley floor and tried to get some more work done. An ill-fated attempt to map a swampy area left me muddy and with soaked feet. I wrung out my socks and started to realize just how difficult mapping the hydrology was going to be.

"The Lost City of Atlantis"

We ran into Briton and got a ride back to the front of the valley to try something else. Below the parking area where we start there was a marshy area with some man-made lakes, and we tried our luck with that. After about an hour, it was time to pack up for the day, and we drove back to Tradewinds Ranch. I felt quite satisfied with the day’s activities but also kind of overwhelmed at how much work is still ahead.

First day of field work

Posted on June 11, 2013 by James Douglas

Today was our first real day of field work. We started out the day by defining our data dictionaries for our respective groups, which would allow us to enter GPS data into the Trimbles in the field in an organized way. Basically, we were creating features and attributes that could be easily integrated into ArcMap. After doing this, we headed out to Kualoa Ranch and drove into the valley. Before we set out, we received a crash course in how to operate the Trimble units- they were really cool. They run windows mobile OS and are full touchscreens, accurate to less than 1m after post-processing, and were pretty intuitive. We had no defined plan on how to tackle the mapping, other than me and Gordon were responsible for hydrologic features. We started out with the geological group and mapped a visible water tower both for the hydrologic value and to georeference the data easily against aerial photos. Then we broke off from geology and headed along the south side of the watershed.

We soon saw our first obvious tributary and headed up to try and check it out. We quickly noticed the incredible density of the vegetation growing along the ephemeral stream channel, but luckily there was what appeared to be a hiking trail traversing the south wall of the watershed, about 200 ft above sea level. We took a point at the intersection of the drainage and the trail, and continued west. Each time we crossed a channel that was well defined, we took a point. Most of them had no water in them, but it was obvious they ran every time it rained, and given the nature of the soils and geology, I wasn’t surprised. We decided to stop for lunch at this strange move prop that was reminiscent of an Aztec sacrificial shrine, mainly because it provided a nice vantage point to get a better grasp on the topography.

View from the "Temple"

Later that evening, we found out it was for a low budget syfy channel flick called Tyrannosaurus Azteca, and I chuckled when I remembered how ridiculous that movie was.

After about two hours of hiking and recording, we were approaching the back side of the watershed, and realized it was time to head back home.

Hala Tree

When we got back to the ranch, we had some free time and decided to go to the beach and relax. The water was incredible as usual, and i had some fun tossing a frisbee around in the shallows, laying out without having to worry about hitting the ground.

After about an hour, we went back to the ranch and learned how to dump the data off our Trimbles. Given that we only had one short day of data, the rest of the day was pretty much wide open to chill, and I honed my pool skills for a while before settling down for some sleep.

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.