Webcam footage of Kīlauea Volcano, west vent in Halemaʻumaʻu, a lava lake that's recently begun bubbling again. Image captured Oct. 31, 2022. / USGS
Webcam footage of Kīlauea Volcano, west vent in Halemaʻumaʻu, a lava lake that's recently begun bubbling again. Image captured Oct. 31, 2022. / USGS

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Volcanoes on Hawaii’s Big Island are sending signals they could erupt and threaten iconic scientific instruments tracking a key climate change record maintained by San Diego-based scientists.

Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on the planet, has been rumbling a lot lately – experiencing more earthquake activity than normal and bulging with magma, according to the U.S. Geological Service. Its neighbor to the east, Kīlauea, already erupted though but a small burp confined at the volcano’s crater summit. Still, Hawaii officials  put the state on alert

That’s why researchers are looking for a possible backup site for a set of carbon dioxide-sensing instruments first placed by Charles Keeling, a scientist affiliated with University of California-San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who in 1958 began recording one of the most important data sets in modern climate science: the Keeling curve. Eventually, Keeling was able to figure out how much carbon dioxide humans were adding to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels compared to natural cycles showing how human activity is warming the planet.

Timothy Lueker, a Scripps researcher who worked with Keeling and maintains the instruments at Mauna Loa, said an eruption or lava flows could either take out the instruments or the lone road available to travel the 11,000 feet above sea level on the volcano’s flank where they sit.

“We’re looking at another peak where the (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has telescopes,” Leuker said. “Then we can set up some test instruments to run a backup record… if the volcano waits long enough for us to do that.” 

Leuker said Mauna Loa is an ideal location for Keeling’s instrumentation because it’s a desolate volcanic peak far from cities, industrial or agricultural sites and free of plants that through photosynthesis create carbon dioxide which could throw off the record. 

Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. ​​Kīlauea erupted in 2018 and destroyed over 700 homes and took out a road that led to another one of Leuker’s sample sites at sea level.

“You’re driving along and all of a sudden there’s a giant, black wall and it goes for miles. It’d be like if half of San Diego got covered in a giant banket of black stuff,” Leuker said, who was on the island during that 2018 eruption.

Stuck-in-the-mud Tijuana River Funding

There’s $300 million in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s bank account, most of which can’t be spent on stopping Tijuana sewage from spilling into San Diego until Congress passes a law allowing it to do so. 

San Diego’s Congressman Scott Peters and his challenger for the newly-formed 50th district, Corey Gustafson, a university lecturer and cofounder of Dogleg Brewing Co., fought about it in dueling Op-Eds this month. 

Gustafson’s Oct. 24 opinion piece argued members of Congress, aka Peters, took credit for the infusion of federal cash on the decades-old environmental problem while failing to ensure the money ended up in the right bank account: that of the International Boundary and Water Commission. 

Peters, in a response opinion piece published Monday, said the EPA found a way to ensure a portion of that money – $3.5 million – could be spent now to start designing and planning a suite of projects at the border. 

I wrote back in April that the EPA planned to use some authority under the Clean Water Act to do just that while we all wait for Congress to right its original spending snafu. Earlier this month, the EPA granted $4.6 million to IBWC so it could start studying what repairs an existing wastewater treatment plant at the border needs, and begin designing an upgrade. 

In the meantime, it looks like the fix San Diego needs to start building something with the rest of the $300 million sits in the Senate appropriations committee

In Other Environment News

  • This SoCal photographer captured a breaching great white shark behind a surfer in San Onofre. (NBC 7)
  • A new analysis of the Colorado River shows about 1.5 million acre feet of water is lost mainly due to evaporation. That’s over a quarter of what California is entitled to on an annual basis. (KUNC)
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth did a great write-up of what the state’s Prop 30 means for climate change this election. Hint: a great tax shift on the wealthy to pay for things wealthy people have, electric vehicles and charging stations. (Los Angeles Time) 
  • Sorry, but staving off catastrophic climate change is “unrealistic” many climate scientists agree. It would require a 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by decade’s end. (POLITICO)
  • The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, took a ride in a train along the crumbling coastal cliffs of southern California. (Union-Tribune)
  • KPBS’ Andrew Bowen had this fantastic Twitter thread pinning the city of San Diego for quietly proposing to expand a freeway despite recently passing a Climate Action Plan. Driving is the largest source of GHGs in San Diego. 
  • In more Bowen news, check out this experiment in North Park where student engineers are building a 10-story building out of wood without some of the higher climate stressing materials like concrete and steel that takes massive amounts of energy to produce and transport. (KPBS)

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