Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy birthday!

This morning I rolled out of bed, drew back the curtain and was faced with a volcano and about 2,500 Muslims in white responding to the call to prayer. In some time-zones it's still my 37th birthday.

The  (inactive) volcano Klabat. The active one is to the right.
My view of the call to prayer. Usually this is a playground. A military statue in the foreground is covered up in green cloth.

Today is Eid, the end of Ramadan, the biggest holiday of the year in Indonesia. 

Yesterday was spent on a tour of Tangkoko Nature Reserve in North Sulawesi. When we left in the morning, the hotel was running on an electric generator, the internet was down and the water pressure was low because the hydropower plants were straining under a two week drought now near the end of the dry season.

The day started off taking snaps of the streamgage (the yellow box) on the Kuala Tondano (Tondano River) where it crosses the Jalan Martadinata bridge. This is the largest river above Madano, draining a major lake.

As we walked into Tangkoko, we heard that Lonely Planet was filming a nature documentary there. The jungle has a very high Leaf Area Index, green everywhere.

Tangkoko's real draw however is the wildlife. It takes a careful eye to spot...

...unless a pack of 30 Black Macaques comes storming up...

Jungle Kitty and Black Macaque in tree.
We briefly merged with another group and their guides. 

The Black Macaques are expressive...
expressive in many ways. Here's the rest of the above photo, with modesty bars included:

We first heard about the park from a French diving instructor with a thick accent. She was enthusiastic about a certain kind of bear that she struggled to describe. She said they're like "Koala Bears"... They keep babies in a pouch. They have big eyes. They have a long tail that wraps around the tree. They have a long body. They are named like the pasta. It felt like the longer she talked the less we understood. We eventually found out the "Long Bears'" real name is Sulawesi Bear Cuscus, pronounced like "cous cous". 
My photo of the long bear
A better photo (source)
Not too different from a Koala Bear that was spotted nearby (staged).

We waited an hour for a Hornbill to come feed at its nest. 
Look closely for the flapping wings in the center of the photo. 
Someone else's photo (source)
What draws film crews in from all over is a small monkey that lives in a Strangler Fig tree.

Hiding in the gaps and only coming out at twilight is the Tarsier, the world's smallest primate. Note the two small glowing dots for eyes:

It jumps out, grabs its food and jumps back faster than you can see, much less take a photo of. This photo gives an idea of the relative size of its head to its body.

The Tarsier is also an Internet sensation for being the cutest animal ever found. 
On the way out of the jungle there was a tarantula:

and Kitty was menaced by a "75 centimeter long" cockroach in the Ranger Station office, captured here:

The ranger convinced us that they best way to combat jungle mites was a impromptu swim in the ocean.

Arriving back late to Manado, the streets were filled with a massive party. There were people dancing on top of parked cars, riding around blaring music, setting off fireworks. On getting back to the room, we turned on the TV and ran across an Animal Planet documentary that featured the wildlife (literally, the same animals) we had spent the day with ("I know that beach! We were at that tree!").  It was humbling to realize that the Tarsier monkey is nearly extinct and we were able to see them up close in their own habitat.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ayung River in Bali, Indonesia

From where I'm sitting (a lobby in a hotel in a small town in Sulawesi), I can count 14 geckos on the wall. Last night the check-in clerk tapped a wall map "your room is here" and two lizards skitted out from behind it.

Last week was rafting on the Ayung River near Ubud in Bali. This small, free-flowing river passed through canyons and there were many waterfalls. At the end of the ride was a small side dam in part of the channel. Much of the landscape looks like this:

The green receptors in my eyes were completely saturated. 

Many of the photos from this post were taken from other webpages (sources 1 , 2 ,3 ,4 ,5 ,6 ,7 ,8 ,9 ,10 ,11 ,12) because I was concerned about getting the phone wet... but straight after the first bend was an unexpected delight. I caused a stir on the raft with all my "ooh! ooh!"-ing ("what is it? waterfall? monkey? snake?"). There was an automated river gage. It looks like a tall metal tube with a small shack on the top.

Even more unexpected was that there was another gage a few more minutes downstream, almost identical to the first, except that the bottom of the tube looked torn away. I've googled up one side of the internet and down the other and can't find any pictures of these gages. I tried to find info on Balinese streamgages, but the best I could find was that many years ago a few gages were installed but no readings were ever taken. I don't know if these are the same gages.

Speaking of surprises, nowhere was it advertised that there's a long stretch of the Ayung's banks that are carved by local artists, commissioned a couple years ago by a resort on the hill. Google turned up a photo of the artists in action:

The carvings are finished and here's a selection of some others' photos from the web

It goes on forever and has a baffling level of detail.

I did get a chance to stand under a waterfall:

If you feel that your job is difficult, consider the life of this lady, carrying dozens of wet life vests at a time on her head up hundreds of stairs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bali to the highlands

On the flight from Perth to Indonesia, we saw some great water features in Western Australia. There were many circular depressions filled with water, near the rivers. I had seen these on Google Earth before but didn't quite know what they were. I'm still not sure I know why they happen. 

Water quality seems a major concern in Indonesia and you'll likely see signs like this, even in relatively posh resorts.  

On our second day we went from Denpasar to Ubud to see a cremation ceremony for a member of the royal family. The driver was happily obliging although somewhat confused by my excited arm flapping and insistence to stop whenever we crossed over a bridge. Many of the rivers in the rural areas are in canyons and are pretty.  

It's the dry season right now so the water is low. 

 As we got closer to Ubud though, a few of the rivers on the outskirts had some trash but this was more the exception than the rule.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CSIRO floreat raingages

After talking with the folks at CSIRO Floreat (Perth), I took a stroll around campus. These are restricted sites, so I always recommend checking in with reception before visiting. These campuses though are usually a fascinating mix of green-spaces like the below...

next to rusty drums full of chemicals, windowless buildings labeled "Danger quarantine", experimental greenhouses and so on.

In a back lot I came across this little weather station. The wind direction vane looked like it had seen better days (the bent thing on the right) but the wind speed cups (the bowls on the left) where whirring away as the wind picked up. It then started spitting rain, coming down in horizontal sheets. I had to hide in a shelter for a dirt pile to keep dry. Soon after, the driveways started forming small streams.

On the other side of campus, my eyes just about fell out of my head when I came across this:

 I used to have something like this at my house in Portland. The inner ring fills up with rain pouring down the funnel. The black top comes off and the tube can be lifted out, read, emptied and put back in. If the rain gets very heavy, the water pours over into the outer ring. It was neat.

Sorry, I meant, "it was neat... times NINE!" There were nine gages at three different heights set up in a set of triangles.

In Portland I similarly had two gages next to eachother and would read both and compare them. It was surprising how different they could be, even just a couple feet apart. 

CSIRO floreat and Perths' water woes

Before leaving for Indonesia, I had a chance to spend at day at CSIRO in Perth/Floreat with Kevin Petrone and Richard Silberstein. They both work on a range of topics, but perhaps most in the news is their work related to this now famous chart of Perth water supply inflow. The data and chart are from the water suppliers and Kevin and Richard's group's work is in understanding what's going on. Each bar is a year's flow and the higher bars are the wetter years. The average flow for the last 5 years has been about 1/6th what it was from 1911-1974.

They believe that after dry years, the groundwater levels drop, making it harder to get good runoff later on, even if the rainfall comes up to normal. Indeed, the rainfall plot does not look nearly as bad as the runoff graph.

You might think of it this way. You have a bank account and there's income and expenses. When your balance gets low, the bank starts charging you fees. These fees keep knocking you below the minimum balance threshold. So you get more fees and keep falling behind. It's possible to break the cycle, but it takes a pay rise or maybe hitting the lottery.

Similarly, in a few years rainfall was low so the water table dropped. That makes it harder to get water from the landscape to the river. So then there's less runoff and the soils around the rivers dry out. Then the water table drops further and even if there's more rain, there's not as much of a connection between the landscape and the river.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gage hunting in western australia

This week we were in Perth... Everyone recommends going to Kings Park, which has a sweeping cinematic view of the skyline and the Swan River. To my delight and surprise Kings Park is also home to the Mount Eliza reservoir, built in the 1890s. 

It's covered by a large shed and has two rings of chain link fences around it, but still, it was a good start to a great day. Must remember to call ahead next time to try and get the behind the scenes tour.

The next must-see place near Perth is Fremantle. It's where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean. It has many historical buildings and is a major port. After a good amount of googling we were able to find the sea level sensor, as shown below.

I'm not completely familiar with sea level gages, but I'm pretty sure it's the red and white boxes. There's probably a float in the thin gray pipe that goes vertically into the ocean on the right (between the red and white box). Then there's the large gray box on the left that may or may not be related. 

Fremantle has a very long history of sea level measurements, available at the Bureau of Meteorology website. The 1890s are on the left and 2011 is on the right. There's a good amount of variability throughout the month (the difference between the red and blue lines) but also there's a relatively steady trend. Some 2-5 year wiggles along this trend are due, among other things to El Nino. As sea level goes, this isn't a lot of variability compared to other places. Broome, for example, varies about 9 meters/27 feet between the monthly maximum and minimum tides. 

Kitty and I had a delightfully romantic time snapping photos at the edge of the government compound with the gauge in the background. I think it's going to be a long year of peering through chain link fences.

Oh, but it doesn't stop there! On our way back to Perth we took a late night stroll down to Swan River at Barrack Street Jetty, the streamgage at the very foot of the Perth central business district. The silver box likely contains some electronics, the gray tube has a float in it that measures river level, the gray pole to the right on it had an antenna (not shown). According to this interesting article about how flooding works in Perth, the city was under 2 meters of water for weeks in 1862.

The yellow dumpster had trash from the nearby Annalakshmi restaurant, I believe?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On the road: keys to the past

Today we took our first flight in this around-the-world year of travel. It's a dark and stormy night here in Perth, Australia.

We had a party with friends and spent our last night in Melbourne in a hotel. In the morning packing it all started to feel real when I had to toss the last of my keys in the trash.

This bin got a whole lot fuller by checkout time!