The title of this post has a double meaning. I stayed active this week by hiking an active volcano in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The caldera that I hiked across was two miles wide and to get down into it, I had to go through a rain forest! It was pretty incredible. Before actually hiking though, I went to the visitor’s center and learned some cool things about the rain forest there. The biggest challenge for the park rangers is eradicating invasive and trying to eliminate the damage that the animals do to the area. Before the Eastern world came to Hawai’i the island had lots of native plants and animals that grew successfully. When the Easterners came, they brought with them several new species of plants and animals, some of which damage the native species. The goal at the park is to monitor the non-native species already present and make sure no new species come into the area. A good example of this is the bird deaths. The wild boars came over from America and Europe and then went to live in the rain forest. They eat the bark off the dead trees and create a hole perfect for pooling water. The mosquitoes then lay their eggs in the trees and hatch to carry diseases from the non-native birds to the native songbirds. The non-native birds can live with these diseases, but the native songbirds are not immune and die. The rangers now realize this problem and have gated the wild boars outside of the songbird protection area so that the native species will not be affected.
After leaving the visitor’s center, we made our descent to the caldera. We hiked down through the rain forest and I saw the gate where the boars are kept out. Then, we reached the edge of the caldera. As I was walking across, I noticed the ferns and flowers that were growing in the otherwise barren environment. This is an example of primary ecological succession. It occurs when there has been lava flow of a wildfire and the land has to rebuild its plant population. The species called pioneer species are the first to emerge and they have special adaptations that allow them to live in the cracks of lava. Over time, these plants will spread and break down the lava rocks, making it easier for other plants to take roots. Over the course of hundreds of years, the caldera will become a thriving rain forest like the one surrounding it. Mother nature is really resilient!
I also got to do some fun things while in the caldera. I climbed down into a crack that was releasing steam from the geothermal core of the volcano. The steam was just like water vapor and still extremely hot. The volcano is still active in another spot, so we guessed that was why the steam was not pouring out of the vents like it had been three years ago. It was interesting to think that those cracks went all the way down into the volcano, and there I was standing right on top of them! Also, that steam is sulfuric, so it is nature’s own form of pollution. We as humans emit just a small amount of pollution into the air compared to a volcano. It is still important to reduce your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of air pollution, but compared to how much pollution Mother Nature gives off, we look pretty green.
One final, totally unrelated to volcanoes, note: We visited Akaka Falls that same day and read about a fish that can climb up waterfalls.
Check it out:
A link for information about ecological succession: http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/what-is-ecological-succession-definition-types-stages.html
Photos courtesy of Darin Strickland (most of them anyway)
P.S. I was only two feet off the ground in the cliff hanging picture.