Climate Monitoring Network on Maunakea - Master Station at Summit and Lower Elevation Satellite Stations

Friday, 19 December 2014
Marie Maile McKenzie, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Geography, Honolulu, HI, United States, Fritz Klasner, Office of Maunakea Management, Hilo, HI, United States, Thomas W Giambelluca, Univ Hawaii Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States and Steven Businger, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States
Maunakea, a dormant shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i, rises 13,796 feet above sea level, making it the highest point in the Pacific Basin. From sea floor to summit, it’s the tallest mountain in the world. The high elevation, low air and light pollution, as well as dry weather year round make it the best location in the world for astronomy observations. The summit is home to 13 ground based telescope facilities. Like all alpine regions, it is an extremely fragile and unique ecosystem because of the harsh conditions and short growing seasons located at high altitudes. The summit is home to several federal and/or state protected species. It supports 11 species of arthropods found nowhere else on Earth. Most noted of these is the Wēkiu bug, whose habitat has been altered by the infrastructural development on the mountain. Arthropod habitat model development has highlighted gaps in climate information, for example, lack of climate precipitation data, snow data and reliable temperature data. Furthermore, in tropical regions, precipitation is the most variable climate component due to topography and local winds. The telescopes collect weather data for the purpose of knowing when it is dry and clear for astronomical observation. Although existing weather stations associated with the telescopes meet some weather and climate monitoring needs, it cannot address the full range of issues needed due to technological limitation and site design. Precipitation does not occur often and is likely to be in the form of snow or ice. Snow cover data has not been directly recorded despite astronomical recording of other meteorological data that began in the1960s. Therefore, the need to monitor the weather and climate in a long-term and well-calibrated way is critical for management of the ecosystems on the slopes of Maunakea. Long-term weather and climate monitoring stations are the primary building blocks for research partnerships, which encourage collaboration and ultimately lead to improved regional understanding of climate. The purpose of this project is to develop a climate monitoring strategy that will ultimately address the conservation, cultural, historic, and scientific values of high-elevation areas on Maunakea, as well as address needs of surrounding users in land management, agriculture, and sciences.