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Former Big Island Student Protecting Corals

As a child growing up on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Narrissa Spies thought the classroom and beach were two separate and distinct places. The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa announced that this 35-year-old graduate student in zoology at the university knows that protecting coral reefs is both her future job and life’s passion.

“I grew up in a house that didn’t have electricity, so for us going to the beach during the day was an amazing way to escape,” said Spies. “I didn’t realize as a child that I could do those types of things as a career, that I could investigate sea creatures, turn over rocks, as my job.”

Bob Richmond, her faculty advisor and director of the Kewalo Marine Lab, says Spies is more than a brilliant scientist, “She is a cultural practitioner who will inspire future ocean researchers.”

Thanks to a $45,000 fellowship from the Kohala Center, a Waimea-based nonprofit, Spies is spending the 2017–18 academic year finishing her doctorate on how coral are able to withstand multiple stressors resulting from human activities.

“For many scientists, the coin of the realm is the peer-reviewed publication. They say, ‘Okay, my job is done, I’ve published the paper,‘” said her faculty advisor and director of the Kewalo Marine Lab Bob Richmond. “For Narrissa and her generation, that is no longer sufficient. ‘We’ve done the science, we’ve published the paper and now we have to put that knowledge to work.’ And that’s what distinguishes her from a lot of other people.”

Spies grew up in Hilo and Kawaihae, where her childhood aspiration was to become a medical researcher. She began her studies at Hawaiʻi Community College, graduating from UH Hilo with a bachelor of arts in biology and anthropology, and a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology and environmental science.

Today, you’ll find Spies at the Kewalo Marine Lab, near Kakaʻako Waterfront Park, where she is on schedule to earn a doctorate in zoology in Spring 2018. She continues her research after receiving yet another honor—a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to engage high school students in the natural sciences as a career path.

By demonstrating her high level of success, this role model will increase the number of Native Hawaiian professionals with a cultural affinity for protecting fragile natural resources.

“I feel it’s important to educate students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) because these are our resources in Hawaiʻi,” said Spies. “And who better to care for these resources than people who grew up here, and can understand how important they are to our local community.”

NASA to Observe Lava Flow Patterns on Big Island – Looking to Unlock Mysteries of Coral Reefs and Volcanoes

NASA is hosting a media day on Feb. 8 in O’ahu, Hawaii, to spotlight two field campaigns that seek to unlock some of the mysteries behind two of Hawaii’s treasured natural resources: coral reefs and volcanoes.

Starting Feb. 10, NASA will fly its Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) on a Gulfstream III aircraft to observe lava flow patterns at Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island.

This month, scientists begin collecting data on coral reef health and volcanic emissions and eruptions with NASA’s Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) preparatory airborne mission onboard the high-altitude ER-2 aircraft. Starting Feb. 10, NASA will fly its Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) on a Gulfstream III aircraft to observe lava flow patterns at Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island.

The event will be held at Marine Corps Base Hawaii from 1 to 4 p.m. HST and will feature briefings by volcano and coral reef scientists and tours of the ER-2 aircraft. Mission personnel will discuss the HyspIRI science instruments and different data collection methods, including an autonomous kayak for coral reef research, and describe how NASA uses field research in developing future Earth-observing space missions.

ER-2 aircraft

This event is restricted to U.S. media. Reporters planning to attend must contact Kate Squires at 661-276-2020 or kate.k.squires@nasa.gov no later than noon PST on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The data collected from the HyspIRI has the capacity to support a potential future satellite mission to study the world’s ecosystems and provide information on natural disasters. GLISTIN provides data critical to understanding and modeling ice sheets, how fast they are changing, and what are the driving processes controlling these changes. These field campaigns are examples of how NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science programs, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/earth