Pōhakuloa Training Area’s unique resources attract scientists from all over the world

By Amy PhillipsJune 5, 2023

Dr. Kirk Hillier, professor at Acadia University (Canada)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dr. Kirk Hillier, professor at Acadia University (Canada), changing out the battery pack of one of the traps he set up at U.S. Army Garrison Pōhakuloa Training Area to study the Helicoverpa hawaiiensis moth, aka Hawaiian bud moth which is only found at PTA. (Photo Credit: Amy Phillips) VIEW ORIGINAL
USGS HVO Matt Patrick
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Matt Patrick with the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory in front of 2022 lava flow to measure its thickness while standing on pahoehoe lava from and eruption 87 years prior (1935). Photo by Tom Shea, UH Mānoa. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

U.S. Army Garrison Pōhakuloa Training Area (PTA) continually works to support the scientific community by facilitating access to the installation. Two recent projects include Acadia University (Canada) professor Dr. Kirk Hillier’s project on the Helicoverpa hawaiiensis moth, aka Hawaiian bud moth, which is only found at PTA; and the University of Hawai’i Manoa’s (UH) survey of the 2022 Mauna Loa eruption area.

“Maintaining good relations with researchers helps the scientific community and enhances our environmental program,” said PTA Commander Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin. “We’re happy to support when we can.”

Dr. Hillier has been conducting moth research in the Hawai’ian islands since 2014. “The reason this species is of interest to me is that it has developed in isolation on the islands and evolved for hundreds of thousands of years, most likely,” said Hillier. He says that the Hawaiian bud moth used to be distributed and documented through all the major islands in the 1960s and 1970s. Through his years of study in the state, he has concluded that the Hawaiian bud moth is now only found at PTA.

Another reason why this study is important - “The Hawaiian bud moth is not a pest species but has the potential of becoming one,” said Hillier. Pests have a huge negative economic impact on the nation’s agricultural industry, and put a dent in homeowners’ pockets when damage from pests like termites occur. A 2021 study estimated that invasive species have cost North America $2 billion per year in the early 1960s to over $26 billion per year since 2010 (Crystal-Ornela, R. et al. 2021)*.

The UH team led by Assistant Professor Tom Shea, consisted of UH graduate students, Matt Patrick with the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (USGS-HVO), and Andrew Harris with the Universite Clermont Auvergne, France. Shea is with the Department of Earth Sciences and specializes in Volcanology-Geochemistry-Petrology. The team conducted a survey of the Mauna Loa eruption area to assess why the lava slowed and stalled at the northern most flow front. They also surveyed Department of Land and Natural Resources land.

“USGS-HVO and UH Mānoa have long been collaborating institutions, striving to investigate and understand volcanic hazard around the Big Island,” said Shea. He adds that the two agencies are developing a new collaboration with the French university because they oversee the ʻsisterʻ volcanic islands in the Indian Ocean (La Reunion), partly to broaden our understanding of active volcanoes.

“The November-December 2022 eruption at Mauna Loa and the lava flows it produced were an opportunity to work together on understanding what caused small but important shifts in lava flow direction during the crisis,” said Shea.

He says the 2022 eruption highlighted the difficulties in predicting the paths of lava flows. “We hope that these field observations and samples will help shed light on how small scale underlying topography and the internal characteristics of the lava (crystallinity, pastiness/viscosity) ultimately controlled the exact path of the 2022 lava,” said Shea. “This will help improve on flow path predictions the observatory can make during future eruptions.”

“PTA is attractive to researchers throughout the country because it offers study opportunities in rare and important tropical dryland forest ecosystems,” said Tiana Lackey, a biologist in the PTA Natural Resources section. “It’s great when a project helps enhance our knowledge in understanding how best to restore native species and habitats.”

*Footnote: Economic and Social Impacts | National Invasive Species Information Center: https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/subject/economic-and-social-impacts

**This is the final story of a two-part feature - “Working with Scientific Community Benefitting Army, Community.”