A classroom in the clouds atop Mt. Ka’ala

Honolulu CC students helped install and monitor an instrument station on Mt. Ka'ala

This story was originally posted January 15, 2015.

Some Honolulu Community College students are getting a rare opportunity to participate in a research project that takes them to the highest, wettest point on O‛ahu for their lessons.
The Ke Ana Waiʻōpua project, led by HonCC geography instructor John Delay, allows students to participate in research and conservation work atop Mount Ka‛ala.

This September, students Angelene King, Kevin Lamb, and John Allen Kahiau Miranda helped get meteorological equipment deployed and running on top of the mountain that will measure variables necessary to estimate forest canopy water balance in the natural area research at top the mountain.

Duane Sula also helped prepare the station to weather Hurricane Ana and download the first data. Students will have the opportunity to use their experiences on the mountain and the data gathered for their semester term projects. As the project develops there will be increasing opportunities for interested students to participate and visit the site including volunteer projects, Delay said.

The tropical mountain cloud forest at the summit of Mt. Ka‛ala represents a unique and sensitive haven for Hawaiian plants and animals, and provides important ecosystem services as a watershed, Delay said. Canopy trees intercept water from passing clouds (fog), providing additional moisture available for groundwater recharge.

Cloud forest ecosystems are threatened by numerous global change factors, including shifts in the height of cloud formation, and temperature changes which may lend competitive advantages to invasive species. But the current canopy water balance conditions of Mt. Ka‘ala are poorly understood, Delay said, in part because it is so remote.

That’s why the research being led by Delay and aided by the students is so important.

“When I first volunteered for I had very little idea on what we were going to do. I just thought we would go up Mt. Ka’ala and just set up some instruments,” said student Kevin Lamb. “Spending the day assisting them was a wonderful experience, and it gave a whole new insight to climatology. This was a real treat, that as a student, and also as a concerned human being can truly appreciate. It has had a profound positive impact on me here at Honolulu Community College.”

Student James Ku Palaualelo, majoring in welding technology also found the experience transforming.

“Mt. Kaala was a experience like no other,” he said. “We had fun hiking and getting dirty. I saw things here I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, as far as the scenery. I recommend to others to volunteer as well. They won’t regret it.”

Global warning can cause upward migration of invasive lowland species into the area, Delay said. This is a particularly important concern for Hawaiian cloud forests, which represent refuges for many native species surrounded by a suite of exotic species in the lowlands.

The Ke Ana Waiʻōpua Project will provide baseline conditions related to cloud frequency and forest water balance in the summit biological community and will measure the variables necessary to estimate forest canopy water balance atop Mt. Ka’ala.

This is a cooperative project between University of Hawaiʻi faculty and Division of Forestry and Wildlife personnel. The investigative team is led by John DeLay at HonCC with cooperation from James Juvik, Emeritus Professor from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, and Thomas Giambelluca, professor from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Natural Area Reserves Commission Executive Secretary Betsy Gagne and Native Ecosystems and Protection and Management Oʻahu manager Marigold Zoll.

The project name was chosen in consultation with HonCC Professor, Gerald Kimo Keaulana.

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