Their goal is to calculate the amount and distribution of groundwater flowing into coastal waters. Groundwater is key to any island, as it's a major source of fresh water.
"If you know how much groundwater is flowing into the ocean, you can then estimate how much fresh water is available and develop strategies for sustainable management of groundwater use," said Sheila Frankel, assistant director of MIT's Parsons Lab in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Frankel organized and led the January trip, the fourth annual TREX (Traveling Research Environmental Xperience), which included 15 undergraduates. Another key participant: Professor Harry Hemond, director of the Parson's Lab, whose skill as a commercial pilot came in handy. The team joined forces with MIT alumnus Kaeo Duarte (Ph.D. 2002), a native Hawaiian who is now a professor at the University of Hawaii.
While Hawaii has models to gauge rough averages of groundwater flow, no one has ever determined the exact source and quantities of the groundwater coming into the ocean. If it works, the MIT technique could do so. Regardless, the data will contribute to Duarte's research into groundwater usage on the dry western coast of Hawaii's big island.
During the January expedition, part of the team took salinity measurements in traditional fishponds and in adjoining coastal waters with instruments including GPS receivers and radios and the aid of kayaks and a motor boat. Areas of lower salinity would correspond to influxes of groundwater.
In the air above them were Frankel's husband, Donald (MIT Ph.D. 1974), a chemical physicist, and Hemond. The two made overflights in a Cessna 172 with a FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camer
Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology