Tuesday, December 22, 2009

David Douglas (Douglas Fir) and Hawaii

Living in Connecticut some time ago we always looked for Douglas Firs this time of year for our Christmas tree (“Doug-fir” to my son). Probably as a reaction to growing up in Ohio and having sparse balsam fir trees all my early life (think Charlie Brown trees), I grew to prefer the lush, long-needled Douglas Fir for the holidays.

Moving to Hawaii I was surprised to learn that David Douglas, for whom the tree is named, died here on the Big Island at the young age of only 35. On July 12, 1834 while trying to explore Mauna Kea he fell into a bullock pit, or was pushed, and then died from wounds from being gored by a steer either already in the pit or one that fell in later.

His life is venerated by many, particularly by botanists of all stripes, and by his native Scotland and those of Scottish descent. In fact, there is a marker indicating where his death occurred erected in the 1930’s by the Robert Burns Society of Hilo. It is called Kaluakauka ("Doctor's Pit" in the Hawaiian language).

David Douglas Memorial, Hawaii Island

Photo: Gordon Mason

The circumstances around his passing are confusing because before beginning his trek he was alerted to the location of the three bullock pits on the trail, and he had already passed two. Some think he may have been examining the third and accidentally fallen into it. Others think that his host the prior night, a “well-known scoundrel,” may have followed him and robbed Douglas of his gold – which he was known to carry with him – before pushing him into the pit.

We do know that Douglas was expected back in Hilo to again stay with the Lyman’s, one of the earlier missionary families. Virtually all visitors to the island ended up at the Lyman’s sooner or later, at least for dinner, including Mark Twain and the many whaleboat captains who used Hilo’s harbor for provisioning.

David Douglas had been with the Lymans prior to his successful climb over Mauna Loa and was expected to stay with them on his return from Mauna Kea.

His remains were salted and sent to Oahu for an autopsy which proved to be inconclusive. Douglas was then buried at Kawiaihoa Church in Honolulu, where a plaque commemorates his achievements.

Douglas accomplished an amazing amount in his short life, for instance, he introduced more North American plants to Europe than anyone else (more than 250). There are about 50 plant species and one genus (Douglasia) bearing his name. After his death, the great tree of western North America was given the name Douglas fir. Kathleen Airdrie

A documentary film, Finding David Douglas, about the life and achievements of Douglas has just been completed and its United States premier will be Thursday, April 8, 2010 at the World Forestry Center, 4033 SW Canyon Road, Portland, Oregon – time to be determined (http://www.ochcom.org/).

So heads up to all our friends in Portland! All pictures from Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission website.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blog: Temperatures Drop Below Minus 459⁰F in Hawaii !

Perhaps the coldest spot in the universe is on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. It is inside a giant, complex camera known as SCUBA-2 that is mounted on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), a joint project of the national astronomy organizations in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

SCUBA-2, when fully operational, will detect sub millimeter radiation, which is sensitive to the heat emitted by the extremely cold dust in the Universe. This technical advancement is expected to make discoveries related to the origins of the galaxies, stars and planets.

Looking at Scuba2

In order to detect such low levels of heat, the detectors inside the camera must be as sensitive as possible. To achieve this they must be cooled to within a tenth of a degree above absolute zero (or about -459 Fahrenheit). And to prevent the detectors being affected by heat from the camera itself, the internal optics of the camera must also be cooled. As a result, the complete camera is the size of a family car, weighing about four tons!

“With a much larger field-of-view and sky-background limited sensitivity, SCUBA 2 will map large areas of sky up to 1000 times faster than the current SCUBA camera. All areas of astronomy will benefit, from studies of our Solar System and surveys of proto stellar complexes in the Milky Way, to answering key questions about the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early Universe.” (Science & Technology Facilities Council, UK Astronomy Technology Centre).

More details may be found at http://astro.uwaterloo.ca/SCUBA2/Posters&Presentations/SCUBA2_descriptionV1.pdf


All photos are courtesy of Devany Davidson.

SCUBA-2 took seven years to build and was the result of a joint initiative of groups and institutions in the United Kingdom and Canada including the Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh; the University of Cardiff; the University of Waterloo;the University of British Columbia; the University of Lethbridge; and the Université de Montréal. Initial funding for development work came from the JCMT Instrument Development Fund. Funds for the construction of SCUBA-2 were provided by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council(UK) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Apologizes to anyone who blogged “scuba diving” and ended up here.