Thursday, February 4, 2016

Possible Glacier Peak Tephra West of Puget Sound

I was recently traversing a bluff to assess geologic risk above the shores of Discovery Bay on the northeast side of the Olympic Peninsula. The bluff geology includes a glacial recessional drift unit capping the top of the bluff. Below that is a recessional outwash sand and gravel unit. Further down slope are much older non glacial sediments (Olympic) and a glacial drift unit from two ice ages ago (Possession). 

The story on the upper bluff is a bit complicated as the units were likely deposited when the Puget ice lobe was retreating. The site appears to be located where the glacier lake that had been located in what is now Puget Sound drained when the ice retreated enough to unblock the lake. Sea levels were tricky at this time period. The ice age was coming to an end but there was still enough global ice such that sea levels were much lower than today; however, on a local level the mass of glacial ice had isostatically lowered the local land surface and hence the local sea level relative to today was substantially higher. All in all a location with lots to contemplate while thinking about slope stability and route finding on steep slopes.

Silty clay at bluff top with sand and gravel below.

I noted some white material within the sand and gravel that obligated me to take a closer look. I am ever hopeful of finding a mammoth fossil. Instead it was cluster of white pebbles within the coasre sand.

I pulled some of the pebbles out and found that they were pebbles of tephra. Tephra is very fine volcanic ash. Some how an ash deposit was eroded and shaped into pebbles by flowing water and deposited on the northeast Olympic Peninsula (The site is on the Quimper Peninsula which is attached to the larger Olympic).

The pebbles of tephra pose an interesting puzzle. How did tephra get all the way across the Puget lowland from a volcano in the Cascade Range? Based on the location and estimated age of the glacial deposits as very late most recent ice age outwash, I suspect this tephra may be from a large eruption from a Glacier Peak from 13,100 years ago. Tephras have distinct chemical signatures and as such this tephra could lend an additional age control to the units where it is located.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Revetmant and Marie Dorian

Joseph Rose notes that Marie Dorion matches well with the recent movie Revenant (Oregon's Revenant). I have posted about Dorion previously (marie-dorion-one-very-tough-woman) - one of my favorite posts and while I post a lot of random stuff it remains one of my better posts. I remain fascinated with her story and the context of the story and her life in the Oregon Country.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Cost of Living in the Mountains: The Swiss Experience

Doing a bit of work related research and reading and came across this perspective regarding communities in mountain settings and slope issues:

Hazards due to slope instabilities affect about 6% of the Swiss territory. The estimated annual cost for protection against landslides amounts to CHF 2.9 billion (Note the Swiss Franc is nearly at par with the U.S. dollar), which is about 0.6% of the gross domestic product or equivalent to CHF 400 per inhabitant. In 1991, new measures have been adopted to prevent and mitigate natural disasters. According to the federal recommendations, regional authorities (Cantons) are required to establish hazard maps to be incorporated in regional master plans and local development plans. ((Stozzi, Amrosi and Raetzo, 2013)

The cost of roughly $400 per inhabitant for living in the mountains and in areas of landslide risks suggests that if a state (say Washington) wants to keep geology hazard mitigation costs down it might be a good policy to consider limiting development in hazardous areas. Of course living in mountain settings does have a lot of appeal so maybe it is worth it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Supreme Court and Demand Curves: A Win for Marijuana?

The U.S. Supreme Court made a major ruling on electric energy policy this past week (FERC v Power Supply Association).

The ruling is favorable to efforts for shaping the electric peak demand curves. That is it will be easier for utilities to lower high electric demand by rewarding (paying) some consumers to shut off or lower their electric use during periods when the demand begins to surge.

"Not only do rates rise dramatically during these peak periods, but the increased flow of electricity threatens to overload the grid and cause substantial service problems. Faced with these challenges, wholesale market operators devised wholesale demand response programs, which pay consumers for commitments to reduce their use of power during these peak periods. Just like bids to supply electricity, offers from aggregators of multiple users of electricity or large individual consumers to reduce consumption can be bid into the wholesale market auctions. When it costs less to pay consumers to refrain from using power than it does to pay producers to supply more of it, demand response can lower these wholesale prices and increase grid reliability. Wholesale operators began integrating these programs into their markets some 15 years ago and FERC authorized their use. Congress subsequently encouraged further development of demand response." - US Supreme Court.

A group of power supply companies wanted to maintain their favorable position by limiting payments to businesses or groups that lower demand. That way they could charge large sums to meet peak demands without the worry of competition from someone getting paid to turn off the power.

Large consumers of electricity have been dining this in Washington State for some time in association with the BPA. As computers and data management get more sophisticated bring more users of electric power into lowering the peak demand curves should increase. Energy Northwest has been developing a demand response system with a number of public utility districts (PUDs) in Washington State that thus far has been passing tests to the system (Energy Northwest Demand Response Project).

The approach will save large electric consuming businesses money as they will get paid to cut back when demand gets high and this approach will keep prices down for everyone by avoiding having to pay very high peak demand rates to power producers. As systems get more sophisticated more businesses and perhaps even homes will be able to participate in the market and thus smooth out the energy demand curves.

Much of the marijuana in Washington State is grown in doors and are big consumers of electricity. Most marijuana production although very green in color is far from environmentally green for that reason. However, the business may be well suited for participation in shaping demand curves.

Avoiding peak demand will shape how various electric supplies will operate and if it works well minimize the need to build or turn on new peak power plants.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

It has been another warm winter for the lowlands of western Washington. But regardless of the mildness I was still surprised to see this clump of blooms on a slope in the San Juan Islands.

I have no idea what the plant is or if it is native. Plant IDs are a weakness in my understanding of the world. The bloom was on a south facing slope with rocks and was near the water. Hence, a mild climate spot that seems to be working well for this plant.

The site did have some other native tree favorites:

Juniperus maritima

Arbutus menziesii
This growth habit is common on south slopes in the San Juans
The root mass appears to survive burning and cutting and sends up new trees

Monday, January 25, 2016

Whatcom County and Lahar Struggles

Whatcom County is in the midst of updating its Comprehensive Plan. Comprehensive plans are wide ranging documents that set broad planning policies around future development and natural resources and facilities planning. They also establish policy guidance for geologic hazards.

A public hearing on the updating of the Comprehensive Plan will take place Tuesday January 26 before the County Council. I suspect there will be lots of public comment on population growth projections, protection of habitat and likely some direct and indirect stuff on coal and oil terminals. Geology hazards - I will weigh in on lahar hazards.

The Planning Commission, an advisory body, has forwarded their version of the plan to the council. That plan includes a significant change in lahar hazard policy. The policy change would set up establishment of removing all limits on development within potential lahar hazard areas. The change was instigated by comments to the Planning Commission by the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County. The comments unfortunately reflect a poor understanding of lahar risk and consequences.

Thus far I sent the County Council this email:

The language adopted by the Planning Commission would be a major policy shift. I have not seen the original language suggested by staff but note that they took a different view per the draft I saw that came out of the Planning Commission. The policy shift would require a substantial change to the critical areas section on lahars. It also may impact how planning in the potential lahar areas may move forward in the future.   

The Planning Commission approach will mean no development restrictions in lahar areas. The way the PC has written this also could allow zoning changes within lahar areas that could intensify development within know lahar risk areas. 
My own view is that there should be limits on development in the lahar areas, but some easing of the rules can and probably should be done regarding some levels of commercial developments. I believe that Planning is working towards addressing that issue by setting an upper limit of some sort. The other issue is for residential development, the current regulation directs the review of residential development to a general part of the code that may be best to drop as it really is not applicable or requires unnecessary review of the obvious - I think that is being addressed as well. 
One other area of possible discussion could revolve around distance along the lahar routes. The longer the distance the lower the potential risk or the more likely that some actions will be taken to address the sediment associated with the lahar/mud flows. A lahar will cause all sorts of problems all along the Nooksack in terms of flooding. Lahars to the east off of Baker will cause all sorts of trouble on the Baker River, PSE's hydro projects and Skagit County.  However, dredging of the river to maintain the river course may be a viable solution. This is exactly what took place along the Cowlitz River at I-5 and within the Longview/Kelso area post Mount Saint Helens eruption. The other aspect of distance is that there is more time and warning for escape.  But for areas close to the volcano, the scale of the event and the area immediately impacted can be really horrible. The terrible example being Nevado del Ruiz in Columbia where approximately 27,000 people died in a lahar event. We are somewhat fortunate that thus far we do not have a substantial population or development within areas of potential lahar. While we can say these events may be viewed as rare, they are inevitable and absolutely will happen. Essentially all of the Cascade volcanoes have had large lahars in the past on multiple occasions.   

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Skokomish River - Washington State Flood Champion

The National Weather Service has color coded warnings on their map. A routine winter warning for western Washington is a bright green flood warning is southwest of the elbow in Hood Canal. The flood warnings apply to the lower end of the Skokomish River. 

I had a wet day in the field on Thursday near the Skokomish.

Mid day liquid sunshine slogging through clearcut to site visit

The weather broke Friday morning and I had nice views of the fairly typical flooding on the Skokomish under brighter circumstances than the day before.

Flooded fields

This guy opened is door so he could make sure he was staying on the road as drove a flooded section.
There are plenty of warnings about not doing this.
However, this road goes under water so often, maybe the locals are expert.

River is to the far right.
Logs that wash onto fields are drug and piled on the fields edge.

The presence of development within this frequently flooded area suggests that the flooding has been increasing over the years. Some casual effects have been suggested for the increase frequency of flooding: excess sediment in the river from past logging practices, a dam on the river that has reduced the capacity of the the river to routinely move sediment and tectonic uplift of the delta area reducing the gradient of the river. Some reduction of flooding has been accomplished by removal of dikes downstream of the flooding area and by the construction of a elevated bridge over part of the flood plain.