Name the Three Types of Rock: Balancing Music and Minerals

Contributed by Christine A. Waters

Phaedrus Quote

iPhoto by Christine A. Waters

Igneous Geologist Under Pressure

Graduate school is an inevitably stressful experience. I entered with a mix of feelings: optimism, adventure, skepticism, motivation, and fear. For the first two years, in an attempt to channel these emotions in a positive direction, I practiced extreme discipline which I hoped would contribute to my success as a graduate student:

  • I made my job a priority (above everything, even my health)
  • I frequently pulled all-nighters without sleep and followed a “military minimum” rule (a minimum of four consecutive hours of sleep per night).
  • Almost every single day of the year, I went to the office to work as if the stock market’s opening bell rang.

Believe it or not, there was little tangible or emotional reward as a result of this behavior. Every scholarship or honor that I received (i.e. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a three-month work internship, accommodations/travel to a conference) contributed to a growing pile of tasks. My discipline had created an environment progressively more challenging and harder to maintain day by day. In fact, the bullet points above, when adhered to strictly, had the effect of greatly increasing the negative stress of graduate school.

In a study recently discussed on Science Magazine’s Life and Career blog, 78.5% of graduate students in science feel overwhelmed, with 60% feeling exhausted, hopeless, sad, or depressed nearly all of the time. That seemed like a discouraging statistic to me! Hoping to not become one of the students in the study, I decided to re-balance and take control of my life. I reassessed my standard operating procedure for daily activities by making some non-work time with one of the recreational niches offered at my own institution.


I decided to return to an activity that always made me smile. I joined the UH Summer Band, a community band that rehearses at the university during the summer months. As I entered the rehearsal room for the first time, I felt like a school girl on her first day at a new campus: “Where do I sit? What do I do? How do I talk to these people who are already gathered in circles?” Admittedly, the freshman feeling was refreshing given my long comfort with academia. There were music majors in the group, and others, like me, who just wanted to play. I slowly made acquaintances and then friends. Every week, I looked forward to working with new music.

UH Fall Campus Band playing at Ala Moana

The UH Fall Campus Band, led by director, David Blon, performing at Ala Moana Center Stage, on November 26, 2013 | iPhoto by Greg Bagnaro

Kismet and Positive Stress

Kismet, to my friends, is the feeling we get when the music is just right – when it fills our body and mind. Music is my second language. I began with a Yamaha keyboard when I was in the first or second grade, picked up the flute in the fourth grade, and played the latter through my last year of high school. Music, for me, is a lifelong chase and a clandestine love. However, since the world is full of flautists with greater talent, I retired my flute to explore more sensible and less competitive career opportunities: electrical engineering, the military, and graduate school. For the past thirteen years, I dabbled on the flute for my own enjoyment when I could – playing for the 304th Signal Battalion in Korea during special events, marching with the Miners at the University of Texas at El Paso in 2006, and touring with And the Furies Say in 2007.

It is humbling to note that my stress-relieving activity actually produced some stress. The difference is that this stress was ultimately positive and inspiring! Returning to a retired pastime required much willingness to bruise my self-esteem. It was a struggle to be a born-again intermediate, to no longer be able to play with the same elegance and technique of years ago. Initially, there was frustration. Later, there was acceptance for the growing nimbleness in my fingers and awareness of my embouchure. The practice is challenging – just as it was when I first began learning to play. Quitting is sometimes reason enough to remain quit. I was deterred to begin again from fear of my growing lack of conditioning – as one might be from a sport she has left. For hobbies that required years of training, I recommend a modest relapse, as clumsy as it may be. For me, the experience has brought a harmonious (pun intended) balance to my previously work-controlled life.

Sedimentary Fill and Collateral Effects

Loosing work ties for two hours a week in one recreational niche became a gateway through which I am now able to enjoy life as a graduate student. So far, I have played with the UH Fall Campus Band, and I have also enrolled in the UH Concert Band. Music is an incredibly mindful experience, and I’ve found that playing with the university bands has been a generous and wonderful outlet for my stress. During rehearsals, I concentrate on the sound I’m producing, the combined sound of the band, the instructions given by the director, and the feel of the keys beneath my fingertips. There is something elevating and magical about being a part of a large creative force – kismet indeed. I believe that many others who have “retired” their instruments can identify with this and remember it sentimentally. I encourage my fellow students to go out and find the activity that challenges, motivates, and inspires them – outside of graduate work. And, if there are other mélomanes (music-lovers) in our science group, I’d love to hear about your own experiences below!

The UH Summer Band will be performing at Ala Moana Center Stage on July 24th at 7:00 p.m.

“Vesuvius” by the University of Hawaii Concert Band Aloha Concert on May 4, 2014, from†musicAENni†YouTube



Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a graduate student pursuing a M.S. in Marine Geology. She is working with advisor Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona coast of Hawai’i.

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Adapting Locally to Sea-level Rise

By: Haunani Kane

Wetlands are important to Island communities because they provide food in the form of loʻi (taro patch), and loko iʻa (fishpond), trap sediment that may otherwise enter the ocean, and provide habitat to a number of native and endangered species.  Sea-level rise, however, threatens the integrity of coastal wetlands due to increased erosion, salt-water intrusion and flooding. The greatest challenge for wetland managers/users will be to prioritize management actions at each of the areas that are predicted to be impacted.  To assist in this challenge we worked closely with wetland users to develop two strategies to manage predicted impacts.

Firstly, due to the low gradient of most coastal plain environments, the rate of sea-level rise impact will rapidly accelerate once the height of the sea surface exceeds a critical elevation.  We calculate a local sea-level rise critical elevation (similar to a tipping point) that marks the end of a slow phase of flooding and the onset of rapid flooding.  The outcome of this method provides wetland managers with maps that can be used to create an inventory of resources that may be impacted during the slow and fast phases of flooding.

Secondly, within highly managed coastal areas, vulnerability is related to site the specific goals of coastal stakeholders.  For example in response to sea-level rise a kalo farmer may prioritize management efforts at the loʻi over the nearby pond because the loʻi provides food for his/her ʻohana (family). On the other hand, a federal manager who is tasked with providing habitat for endangered species will focus sea-level rise management efforts on the pond because it is used more frequently by endangered waterbirds.  We worked closely with wetland users to develop a ranking system that models the local vulnerability as a function of 6 input parameters: type of inundation, time of inundation, habitat value, soil type, infrastructure, and coastal erosion.  Through the use of an in person survey each input parameter was ranked based upon the goals and objectives the users of that area.  Areas of the highest cumulative vulnerability were mapped and should be used to prioritize future adaptive management.

Haunani Kane is a graduate student in Geology and Geophysics, working in the Coastal Geology lab of Dr. Chip Fletcher within SOEST. Haunani is from Kailua, O‘ahu, and her research centers on better understanding past and future sea-level rise events to assist coastal risk management. She believes that by tying culture to science we may be able to inspire more young native scientists.

Aquatic Soldiering – The Norm

By Christine A. Waters

Christine A. WatersI told myself I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. Whaaaat am I doing here?” As the sun beat down on us mercilessly, I played through memories: the incisive friction of Kevlar antennas and tie-downs tearing from my grip in the Chihuahuan Desert under gusts of wind, the swelling cramps in my neck and lower back from carrying 40 lb rucksacks full of gear through twelve miles of coniferous forest in Georgia, and the sweltering heat of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical contamination suit and mask training during monsoon season in Korea. The discomfort of my sunburn was magnified by those memories. Oh, shade! Oh, sundown! 

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Our ten-foot inflatable raft wafted up-and-down in the gentle, rolling waves of Kiholo Bay, off the west side of the Island of Hawaii. We were trolling along the shore, surveying waters along the coastline for radon. “Radon?” you say. “Affirmative, radon – the very same one that causes lung cancer when breathed.” Radon is enriched in groundwater from our islands, relative to the ocean (that is), and so we look for it and measure it and use its concentrations at sites (along with salinity, temperature, nutrient and chlorophyll-a concentrations) to tell us where and how groundwater is affecting the coastal zone. In areas like Kiholo Bay, this frying pan where I was currently baking, groundwater is the primary conveyor of nutrients and contaminants to the ocean. So, we survey nature’s bug juice.

  A Hawaiian green sea turtle glides up to the raft and checks us out for a minute. (“Us” are a group of three: two undergraduates and me, a grad team chief, Jane-of-all-trades.) What makes the water do? Well, that’s what I imagine the turtle thinks in passing. This type of thinking helps me get the job done. Soon, we are finished – but not with the day. It is just lunchtime. As I throw on a coverall to protect the few remaining bits of my hide that aren’t lobster pink, we hastily get the raft ready for a new operation. Today’s special for lunch will be: wet crackers, salty cheese with bits of sand, some grapes (who doesn’t like grapes?), and don’t forget to drink water! Our dining facility is the raft, as we’re motoring out to the location of our first radium sample, past the reef, in the middle of the bay. Radium analyses, I will explain in a bit. For now, soldier, we are collecting water samples, and this is a need-to-know kind of job!

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

“Don’t look at my butt!” my undergrad (unofficial rank = specialist) yells, as she leans over the side of the raft to begin filling our 20 L cubitainer with water. (This is almost always the comment that is made by the poor battle buddy grabbing the sample.) And as we try to hold the raft in position with the oars, the afternoon’s typically choppy tide is beginning to fight with us. Oh no, you don’t! Beat your face, Water! The ocean does not assume the front-leaning position. I am not pleased.

Nonetheless, we are successful! Sample obtained and water quality parameters (salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen) recorded, we return to the shore to dump it into… a trash can. Ah, science is glamorous! Since there is so little radium in the ocean, we need to collect large volumes of it for measurement. We collect ~60 L of sample.
Radium is a radioactive, daughter product of thorium. Thorium likes to attach itself to particles, is very immobile, and is relatively deplete in ocean waters compared to those originating from land. Thus, little radium is measured on the ocean surface relative to the amount of radium we measure in rivers, lakes (or other bodies with shallow sediments), and groundwater. Radium attaches to particles in freshwater. Where freshwater meets saltwater, it begins to be replaced by chloride from the saltwater, and so it falls off of particles (and into the ocean water). This new supply (compared to the low ocean concentration) is what we’re actively looking for in the waters we sample.

Because radium is radioactive, it decays. So, we can use the radium that lives for the shortest time period to constrain how long the water we’ve sampled has been in nearshore waters and how much mixing with ocean water is taking place. This will be important for identifying things like: how long do groundwater-supplied nutrients stay in an area or how long does contamination persist in recreational waters, et cetera. In the lightest of sense, someday, soldiers in survival training will be forced to tread water in their ACUs in this stuff, and we want to make sure we know what quality of water they’re sucking up – but also how many and how well the phytoplankton (at the bottom of the food chain) are growing around them in the eight hours they’re doggie-paddling.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

After eight radium trash cans are filled and filtered (Oh yes, there’s filtering!), we’re ready to roll-out for the day. The sun is setting, and the sky is a beautiful orange, pink, purple, and grey. Hurray! The white tern that is often at Kiholo Bay in the evening eyeballs us from his rock. It’s okay, tern. We’ll see you tomorrow! And tomorrow, I’ll wear long sleeves and sunscreen to the battle. With all the talking that goes on in my head, I wonder at the evidence we’ll discover in this place for groundwater’s impact on the nearshore environment and the coastal ecosystem. On top of this, I wish I could give the world a better answer for why I’m still here. But the truth is, given all my training and history, I really just enjoy this dialogue that’s happening. 😉

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a third-year graduate student in the Marine Geology section of the Geology and Geophysics Department. She is working with, advisor, Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova, on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.