Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sustainability in New Zealand

Much of the sustainability issues in New Zealand deal with protecting their natural environment.  They have a Department of Conservation that is very active. They have very strict controls at the airports to catch the spread of invasive species. I had to declare that I had been hiking in other forests and they examined my hiking boots for dirt on the way through customs. One of my colleagues forgot that he had an orange in his checked luggage and did not declare it. He was fined $400 on the spot when the orange was found.

The Department of Conservation is working to control the introduced stoats (weasels), rabbits, hedgehogs, feral cats, feral pigs, and possum populations.  New Zealand was the home to many endemic ground dwelling birds that had no natural predators. Many of those birds were hunted close to extinction and now are heavily threatened. It is amazing to realize, that New Zealand had no large native land animals besides birds so the ground dwelling birds evolved without the threat of predators which has made them easy prey to humans and these introduced animals.

There is an introduced phytopthera fungus that is infecting the Kauri trees and killing many of them after about 50 years. This fungus was apparently accidentally introduced with some forest experiments in the 1950s when local forests brought in some non-native tree species with intact root balls in soil. The fungus seems to have spread from some of these experimental forests and has now spread through much of the remaining Kauri pine forests. We had to go through boot washing stations at the entrance and exit to every Kauri forest that we hiked through. This is to try to control the spread of the phytopthera.

I found very little evidence of wind power or solar power, although most (possibly 80%) of New Zealand’s power apparently comes from hydroelectric dams and is supplemented by the burning of coal. The main place that I saw evidence for wind or solar power was on sailing boats that do not have another source of electricity. Most boats had some type of alternative energy that would be connected to a battery for storage of some electricity.

It is amazing that this land was completely forested with some Mauri landscape effects up to the early 1800s.  From the 1840s to the present, Europeans have had an increasing effect on the landscape which results in clearing of the forest for lumber, collection of the Kauri gum (both from living trees and fossil material in bogs), and the introduction of many European tree species. As I have noted in Tasmania and Australia, Pinus radiata is a main timber species in New Zealand and was heavily planted as a reforestation species and a cash crop starting in the early 1900s.  Now you see these pine forests all over the island and they have issues with wilding pines (invasive Pinus radiata which is hard to control).

I found New Zealand to be very lush and green. It was a familiar landscape since Europeans had “made it productive” by taking out the native forest and putting in agricultural fields and grazing grasslands throughout much of the North Island. Conservationists have demonstrated that if you can plow up the existing grasslands and plant them with native pioneer trees such as Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) the forests recover. Many of the Pinus radiata stands are being harvested and the land converted back to tropical forest.

I came across a Yarn Bomb site on Devonport Island. Some creative knitters had made yarn cozies for some poles on a structure right next to the ocean. It provided a nice bit of color and brought a smile to my face.

I found evidence for similar environmental efforts to what I have seen in the states. We found a nice riverside restaurant in a small town and they had EcoChoice napkins made of recycled materials. One of our hotels had a four sided Conservation and Recycling guide. Most hotels promote the reuse of towels and sheets (which is the most sustainable and seems to have caught on because it saves the hotel money and helps the environment).

Many houses collect their own water from their roofs. I would say that at least 60% of the homes that we passed in the country had a very large water barrel connected to it gutter system. The water barrels were probably about 500 gallon capacity.

Greenhouses were also fairly popular and I saw many large operations of greenhouses throughout the Northland. It was not clear what they were growing and the climate in the area never got really cold (much warmer than Indiana). They were growing a lot of corn and some sweet potatoes as crops scattered across the landscape. They also had many vineyards that we passed along our travels as you might expect by the availability of Australian and New Zealand wines in the American market place.

We had a planned stop in a small town for a bathroom break (called toilets here – apparently the bathroom – where you take baths – is often a completely separate room). Frederick Hundertwasser retired to Kawakawa near the Bay of Islands and created a public toilet with colorful tile work that has become the main claim to fame for the town. You could see the town had picked up this artistic theme and actually repeated it throughout the town after the artist passed away.

Just behind this public toilet on the main street was a much smaller toilet with an impressive green roof that included a wide range of plant types. Apparently toilets are where it is at in the Northland of New Zealand.

Post Conference Tour in New Zealand

Gretel Boswijk, Anthony Fowler, and Drew Lorrey lead the post conference tour around the Northland which is north of Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. It was a fabulous tour that took us through living Kauri forests, to archaeological sites that included Kauri wood, and to peat bogs that contained ancient Kauri.  We also visited a couple of wood shops that have been using the ancient Kauri from bogs as a fine wood product. Drew specializes in collecting this wood to help extend the Kauri chronology back through time and to understand long-term climate changes.

I started my tour off with a couple day stay in Auckland at the Columbia Hostel. This lodging was basically a dormitory for the University of Auckland that let out un-used rooms for short term or long term stay. I had a room to myself, but shared a bathroom with two other rooms. It was a very small space with just a view of the building next to us which was about 10 feet away, but it was only $39/night. It was advertised as bring close to Queen Street (the main thoroughfare through Aukland) but it was actually quite a way from anything of interest (the university, Queen Street, or the docks). When I checked in, the room had not been cleaned or the sheets changed from the previous tenant so they moved me to another room.
Zhiyuan Shang (a dendrochronologist from China and a participant at the fieldweek) and I went out to the Bangkok Thai restaurant. It was a nice restaurant on a second floor above Queen Street. We ended up on the same plane from Melbourne and were going on the post conference tour together, so we shared a taxi to the hostel and stayed there for the few days before the post conference tour.
My first day in Auckland, I traveled to the Hobbiton Movie Set (see a previous post). I returned around 4pm that afternoon and had them drop me downtown so that I could take a ferry across to Devonport. I walked a couple miles on the beach walk and then found a restaurant to relax at and write on my blog until the 8:30pm ferry back to Auckland. Devonport was a very nice town with many historic buildings and coastal views. 

It was nice to see a native mangrove (Avicennia marina) growing along the waterways. It is an interesting tree that can grow well with its roots inundated in water because it has special aerenchyma cell that transport oxygen to its roots.
On my second day in Auckland, I visited the University of Auckland Tree-Ring Laboratory in the morning and had a great tour from Gretel Boswijk and Alar Laanelaid from Estonia joined us for the tour (see a previous post on this laboratory). I had tried to schedule a night kayak out to a local volcanic island, but the tour was booked and the weather was not very good with some intermittent heavy rains. I decided to visit the Auckland Zoo instead and saw many Australian and New Zealand animals.
They had a great display that was set as a night time exhibit with native Kiwi birds, moreporks (which is an owl like bird), and bats. It was a great display and I spent between half an hour to an hour in that display letting my eyes adjust and waiting for the Kiwis to come out. In the end, I saw two kiwis, the morepork, and some bats.
The post conference tour started the next morning at 9:30am. We had requested a small bus which would have been a tight fit for all 18 of us. We ended up getting a full coach which could hold about 55 people, so we each had our own set of seats or even a full row. We stayed in some beautiful places like the Copthorne hotel at the Bay of Islands and the Copthorne hotel near Hokianga These places where right on the beach where you could walk out your patio door and be on the beach in 100 feet. They had great views and were very beautiful and relaxing. During the days, we toured from one Kauri site to another. We hiked in many of the remaining Kauri forests which are amazing forests. Most of them had boardwalks which made walking easy, but I could imagine very difficult bushwalking to try to do field fieldwork in native Kauri forests. The forests where tropical with many layers of canopy and very dense forests.
We were able to visit the largest Kauri trees in existence. These are amazing trees. They are not as large volume as sequoia trees or as tall as coast redwoods, but they had great character. It seems that their tops die off as they age and many branches vie for dominance creating a stout trunk that is crowned by a series of massive branches.
We spent our first two nights in the Bay of Islands at the Copthorne hotel. We had a beautiful view of the bay and had the opportunity to take the second day as a free day. I decided to charter a sail boat that would take us out to an island where we could kayak and snorkel (see other post). Across the bay from where we were staying is the town of Russell which Darwin visited on his voyage on the Beagle. His main comment about the town was that it was the hellhole of the Pacific because of the unruly behavior of the sailors that were ashore. It was pretty cool to have visited a site that Charles Darwin had visited about 150 years ago.
Approximately 95% of the original Kauri forest was logged in the 1800s and early 1900s. We visited four existing forest patches, most of which were relatively small remnants of the original forest. Today, most of the Kauri wood is actually submerged in bogs and there is a healthy industry that is working to excavate these trees and to work them into high value wood products. Some of this sub fossil wood (still workable) dates back to the Last Glacial Maximum (at least 30,000 years old) and we saw a few pieces in a Kauri Museum that actually dates back 30 million years and is still workable as a wood. We visited two wood shops where the Kauri wood products were for sale. The Kauri Museum had a tangential section of the stem of a Kauri tree on display.
We also visited some historical sites. One of which was a gumdigger site in Northland where people used to mine out the Kauri gum from the swamps. The best quality gum was hard and preserved as amber. Other lower quality gum was processed into shellac and living trees where drained of their sap for this process as well. It was found that this process of bleeding the trees of sap actually killed them in a few years, so this practice was abandoned after a while.
This tour was amazing. It was a good mix of science, history, forest, and beautiful beaches along with good company. The living Kauri trees that we visited where just awe inspiring. The work that the Auckland dendrochronologists are doing is amazing, especially with the development of the long chronology using the ancient Kauri wood that is buried in the bog. It is nice to see the conservation efforts and that these native forests are being regenerated with the help of the Department of Conservation (see the Sustainability of New Zealand post).

A buried Kauri log in a bog. The flattened top is the area that was exposed to the air and the part that was below ground is what is preserved.

Piles of ancient Kauri stems that have been excavated from bogs.

Near the top of our tour through the Northland, we passed through some rolling green hills north of Hokianga. It was a beautiful pastoral country. I found myself thinking that it would be a great place to retire.

My Process: Dinner and blogging at the restaurant Mecca in Devonport overlooking the beach.

Friday, January 24, 2014

University of Auckland Tree-Ring Lab

I had the opportunity to visit the University of Auckland, School of the Environment, Tree-Ring Lab prior to our post-conference tour. Gretel Boswijk, Anthony Fowler, and George Perry are the main researchers in this lab and they specialize in the Kauri long chronology that now extends back to 2500 BC and climate reconstruction. This is made from long living samples, archaeological wood, and sub-fossil wood buried in bogs (up to 2000 years in age). You can see their long chronology printed out and taped on the wall.

Drew Lorrey is another dendrochronologist in Auckland who co-lead our post conference tour. He has his own lab at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research which is a Crown Research Institute established in 1992.
The Auckland Tree-Ring Lab mainly uses Hansen design measuring stages with linear encoders added by their physics mechanical group. They measure their samples and visually compare the line plots of ring width to determine a visual age. Then they use computer programs to examine the statistical match of the date which provides r values and t values for them to assess the quality of the match. They have mainly used Dendro for Windows developed by Ian Tyers in Sheffield, although this program is no longer supported. They have also used Baillie and Pilcher’s Cross73 and Martin Munro’s Cross84. They have traditionally plotted graphs on a printer to visually compare on a light table. They would annotate the graphs for questionable areas that needed to be checked on the wood. Now they use Corina which was developed by Peter Brewer and the Cornell lab (now at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research in Tucson) to visually match plots on the computer screen.  Corina also enables them to combine visual and statistical crossdating.  Gretel emphasized that all of this work brings them back to the wood to check the dating.  
A cartoon from the Nelson Newspaper where Gretel grew up published in 2012.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


One of the main things that I wanted to visit in New Zealand is some part of the Lord of the Rings movie locations.  Most of them are on the south island, but the Shire is located about 2 hours south of Auckland at the Hobbiton Movie Set. The original set for the Lord of the Rings series was temporarily installed by agreement with the land owner, so it was demolished after the movies. After the land owners saw the success of the first trilogy, they agreed to have Peter Jackson back for filming if they made permanent structures and left them when they were done. This is now a major tourist destination with guided tours through the movie sets.  This location was also only used for outdoor shots so the interiors of the hobbit holes are mostly empty and not very deep.

The site was chosen by helicopter for the tall pine tree next to the lake. We found out that this particular tree was slated to be cut down for fire wood in a few weeks from when the site crew found the site, which saved the tree and this beautiful location. The Green Dragon Inn is also located next to the lake and has a full interior. We had a drink in the Inn and lunch in an outdoor tent which was very nice.

The site as a whole was very peaceful. It is nice that we arrived fairly early (before 10am) so the site was not very crowded.  There were other tour groups going through, but I could take most of my pictures without people in them.

I would highly recommend this tour. It was a very nice place to visit. Now I need to watch the movies again.