Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shaggy Mane Sequence

I was going through some fall photos for a report I am working on and came across this sequence of mushroom pictures.  This particular mushroom is a shaggy mane. Good to eat only when new and then it proceeds to turn into what looks like blobs of ink. The ink blobs are full of spores.

I am not a mushroom expert and have limited my mushroom picking to very few mushrooms. Any good mushroom book will cause some pause unless you develop a lot of confidence. But mushrooms are a part of the western Washington landscape that has inspired a culture of mushroom connoisseurs. New shaggy manes are eatable before they turn into unappetizing blobs of ink.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Missoula Flood Routes in the Snow

Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area looking south with The Gorge further to the south and the Columbia River to the west (right). The diagonal line across the upper middle is Interstate-90.  

I think I picked a good year not be traveling through London or New York at Christmas time. When I do fly I try to sit by the window. I suspect many geologists have sore necks from having their head turned to look out the window. I always enjoy trying to figure out where I am and what I am seeing.

I took the above picture on a recent flight from Seattle to Kansas City. The rain shadow effect had created a cloud free area over eastern Washington and I had this great view of the Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area with its deep Missoula Flood channels, dry water falls and flood gouged lakes above the Columbia River on the right side of the picture. This one of several flood routes that altered the eastern Washington landscape during the last ice age.

A smaller nick point on the right side to the south of the main channels is the site of The Gorge. The erosion by the spilling waters carved an amphitheater with great acoustics and great views. The site is used for large concerts in the summer. I'm fairly sure that the Dave Mathews Band has not done a Christmas concert here yet, but have paid several visits in the summer.  

A little past the Gorge and Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area I got a view of yet another Missoula Flood Channel, The Winchester Wasteway and the North Columbia Basin Wildlife Area and the South Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. Water from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project is routed through this natural drainage route carved by the Missoula Floods. The lakes and fresh water have developed into outstanding bird and fishing areas. 

Winchester Wasteway looking south. The sharp straight line is Interstate-90

With the snow the channels were easy to see and trace. Much easier than figuring them out on the ground like Bretz did. A little further east before the clouds obscured my view I got a view of Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir.

View looking south of mostly frozen Moses Lake crossed by Interstate-90 with Potholes Reservoir further south and not yet frozen 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wading for Geology

Shore of Discovery Bay

In the quest for greater scientific understanding one sometimes must get wet. I find it safer and much faster to wade than smashing through brush and tree limbs on slippery landslide surfaces. Besides this particular slide was covered with Nootka rose thickets. Given the choice yesterday, I went with wet legs versus brush wrestling and rose thorns.

Preglacial tidal sediments (?) possibly deposited during the advance of the Puget and Juan de Fuca ice lobes

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eclipse and Snow in Bellingham

The last couple of nights have brought a few small surprises. Sunday night we had a somewhat unexpected snow at roughly 2:00 am. Brightened up the night and early morning during our shortest days of the year.

And last night we were able to watch the eclipse. Given that it was cloudy all day yesterday and is cloudy again this morning it was an unexpected treat. I took the picture by sticking my camera lens into a binocular eye piece. Not exactly high quality optics and and hard to hold steady while taking the shot.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pushtay, an Odd Hill Near Selah, Washington

Pushtay on the eastern portion of the Yakima Firing Center

Topography map of Pushtay (note different name on the topo map)

A relatively small but odd hill is located east of Interstate-82 northeast of Selah, Washington on the U.S. Army's Yakima Firing Center. It is a bit hard to capture its out of place appearance. It is nearly a perfectly conical hill located on the south side of a broad slope of a large anticlinal ridge of the Yakima fold belt. The overall landscape of the area is broad sweeping valleys and ridges defined by the folded layers of basalt along with deep sharp edged canyons incised down through the folds. Hence this hill with its conical shape stands out as an oddity.

The base of the hill as well as the surrounding broad slope it rises from is underlain by the Pomona Member of the Saddle Mountains Basalt of the Columbia River Basalt Group. The Pomona basalt is approximately 12 million years old. Most of the hill itself consists of alluvial sediments that were deposited between eruptions of basalt during the upper Miocene. The particular unit on the hill is less than 12 million years old. Younger basalt lavas are present in eastern Washington; however, after the Pomona flows the volumes of later flows were substantially less voluminous. The only younger flows in the area that could have capped Pushtay is the Elephant Mountain basalt, but that flow is fairly thin in the area and may not have ever capped the alluvial sediments underlying Pushtay. The very peak area of the hill has been mapped as being underlain by Pliocene gravels that have been dated at 3.6 million years old.

The alluvial sediments that make up Pushtay were deposited by the ancestral Yakima River and perhaps also the Columbia River. The Yakima and the Columbia were pushed to the west by the repeated floods of basalt lava that filled the basin in eastern Washington. The river(s) likely was carrying a large sediment load from uplift and volcanic activity in the Cascade Range.

The Yakima River is an antecedent river. That is the river was there before the ridges formed. As south to north compression continued the Yakima fold belt lifted up the ridges that the river now cuts through. The meandering nature of the ancestal river is preserved where the river is entrenched into deeply incised valleys through the ridge areas particularly to the north of Selah in the Yakima Canyon - a classic example of entrenched meanders of an antecedent river.

Yakima Canyon topography with entrenched meander loop within Yakima Fold Belt ridges between Ellensburg and Selah

The antecedent nature of the Yakima River can be also readily be observed just north of Yakima and south of Yakima where both the river and Interstate-82 squeeze through Selah Gap north of Yakima and Union Gap south of Yakima.

Yakima River north and south of Yakima (Google maps)

A tributary stream to the Yakima (Selah Creek) is likewise entrenched in the uplifted fold very near Pushtay and can be seen on the topographic map showing Pushtay. This tributary canyon is crossed by the Interstate via a spectacular bridge.

The Yakima flows into the Columbia River. Not yet well understood changes in the area the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Range likely caused an increase in gradient on the Yakima and thus increased the rate of down cutting by the Yakima further enhancing the entrenched nature of the current river. Possible changes on the Columbia River route through the Cascade Range may have been the result of volcanic activity.

Pushtay is a relatively isolated remnant of the old valley sediments from prior to the entrenchment of the Yakima. It is likely that the original remnant alluvial deposit that forms Pushtay was a somewhat different shape, but over the tens of thousands of years of frost action, wind and occasional sheet wash erosion from rare intense storms the hill was shaped into its current conical shape. Another factor to consider regarding the relative uniqueness of this hill is that similar features that may have once been present along the Yakima at lower elevations would have been obliterated by flood waters from the Missoula Floods that would have inundated areas below 1,200 feet. Pushtay at 1,845 feet as well the surrounding slopes would have been above the reach of the flood waters.

A look at the topographic map shows that Pushtay went by another name for many years. The name was changed to Pushtay after the Yakima Nation, Wanapum Tribe, and the U.S. Army made a request to the Board of Geographic Names for the name change in 1999. Pushtay means small mound in the local Yakima language. I have to admit the second part of the old name is descriptive and it may have been the first part that was more offensive.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Maury Island and Mining

North end of run ways at Seattle Tacoma Airport

While getting ready for takeoff I took this picture of the end of the run way at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Big airports cover lots of ground and alter the landscape significantly. In the case of this airport lots of fill was required to extend the run ways over a low area at the north end of the runways. Bridges were constructed to support landing lights beyond the ends of the runway. But the changes to the landscape extend beyond the airport. All that fill has to come from somewhere and so the changes to the landscape take place elsewhere as well.

East shore of Maury Island

One source of sand and gravel is visible right after take off. The west shore of Maury Island has several mines. The mining takes place in glacial advance outwash, deposits of sand and gravel associated with melt water from the advancing glacial ice that pushed down into Puget Sound from the north. These deposits are particularly thick on Muary Island. Cal-Portland a Japanese owned concrete producer planned a major mine expansion on the island about ten years ago. The permitting process has taken a very long time primarily because the mine proposed using water access to ship via barge the mined aggregate. Without the ability to ship by water the value of the deposit is limited due to the low demand on Maury Island and Vashon Island (the two islands are actually attached via a narrow neck of land).

There are a variety of permits that are needed for any gravel mine, but water access and the construction of a pier involve more permitting than the mine itself. A variety of groups opposed the pier construction, but the mine obtained most of the permits until 2009 when a Federal Court judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers needed to do a more in depth analysis of the proposed pier and how noise and shading from construction and operation might harm orcas and chinook salmon, both of which are listed as endangered species. David Mann who recently argued a Freedom of Information case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding another Washington Island was the attorney for groups appealing the Army Corps initial permit (see HERE)

After that decision the mining company became more receptive to selling the land and leaving the project. In April 2010 the Washington State Legislature approved $14.5 million for purchasing the land. King County Council approved $19.1 million dollars in November 2010 as well as a non monetary agreement worth $2.4 million regarding another mine site that is owned by the county but leased to the mining company. There is a commitment of $2 million by non profit groups to partially offset the County's purchase. 

The State money comes from a settlement fund paid to the state by another mining company, ASARCO. ASRCO operated a smelter in Tacoma for many years and one legacy from that smelter is an area wide contamination of lead and arsenic from air borne deposition. One of the places most impacted by the smelter is the Maury Island and Vashon Island area, so there is a link between using the money at the location to offset the damages caused by the smelter. The County money is from a Conservation Tax, a property tax for purchasing properties for public open space. Many Washington Counties have such a fund. In King County the fund collection is bolstered by the high value of land in the most populous county in the state.

From a gravel mining perspective, this means that the value of other deposits that could serve the area or have an easier time accessing water will increase in value and demand. Gravel mining already takes place with water access south of Tacoma and a pit in Jefferson County near Hood Canal has proposed a conveyor system to load barges. There is a small rock quarry on Lummi Island in Whatcom County with water access and several mines in the straits between Vancouver Island and main land British Columbia.  But other market factors also play a role. Some projects may not be constructed if the prce of aggragate gets too high or projects may be redesigned to use less aggregate or different materials.

At this point it looks like a new park with water access is in the works for the east shore of Maury Island. The geologic map that covers Maury Island (Booth, 1991) notes that the area of homes that can be seen on the photo above is modified land associated with mining. Post mining development is not uncommon. Shopping centers have been built in the old mines in Monroe and a residential development and championship golf course have been in development south of Tacoma in an area mined out.       

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A few geology views and a bit from that other Washington

I've been traveling. I am not a highly wired person so typically very limited posting when I travel. A few geology views and a bit from that other Washington. And I missed the big storms in western Washington.

Mount Rainier rises above the low clouds - classic view for air travelers out of or into Seattle. The small cloud cap on the summit is a frequent warning of bad weather on the way.

Missouri River and oxbow from valley wide channel migration approaching Kansas City

Great view in the other Washington.
I very much enjoyed the beer I had while sitting at this window.
And, yes, we had a great time

The southern end of a big glacial lake and the city of Chicago

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Orcas Chert on the Southwest Coast of San Juan Island

Orcas Chert on the west side of San Juan Island

Closeup of Orcas Chert

I always enjoy seeing the Orcas Chert. Orcas Chert of coarse is found on Orcas Island with extensive outcrops along the shores and steep slopes of East Sound and West Sound on Orcas. The formation also crops out along the the headlands on the west side of Shaw Island and makes up significant portions of the shoreline of the east, northwest and southwest sides of San Juan Island. 

Orcas Chert is predominantly ribbon chert and has a great mangled look and with twisted geometry and unexpected surprises within the highly sheared rock. Chert is formed by the accumulation of silica bearing skeletons of organisms such as radiolaria, siliceous sponges and diatoms on the sea floor (see HERE for a view of a diatom deposit in eastern Washington). The silica bearing organisms sink to the bottom of the sea and accumulate enough to create silica rich layers. Chert formation typically requires low sediment input and thus are indicative of sites being far from land or at the least far from areas where much erosion is taking place. They are generally though of as being in deeper water as well or otherwise calcium carbonate bearing shells or corral would predominate. So the presence of chert gives a hint as to the source environment - ocean floor possibly deep water or far from an eroding land mass. 

The Orcas Chert consists primarily of ribbon chert consisting of alternating chert layers with thin layers of shale. The shale consisting of metamorposed mud stone. Orcas Chert also includes lesser amounts of pillow basalts (lava that erupted under water), volcanic tuff and limestone. The limestone is interesting - more on that later. 

The Orcas Chert is part of a suite of rocks belonging to the Northwest Cascades System (NWCS). The NWCS is not a simple assemblage and taking a walk along the the Orcas Chert exposed on the west side of San Juan Island is a good reminder.  Lappen (2000) assembled the Geologic Map of the Bellingham 1:100,000 Quadrangle that includes much of the San Juan Islands. The accompanying report provides only a brief description of the geologic setting but I think it sums up the NWCS rather well as "This structural system is a thrust stack of mainly oceanic lithologic packages (terranes) of varying age, structure and metamorphic history." I would emphasize "varying" as an understatement. When I get asked about these rocks or other assemblages of metamorphic rocks in the San Juans or Northwest Cascades I often say these rocks have had a long hard life. 

The west side of San Juan Island parallels one of the many thrust faults that juxtapose formations within the NWCS. This fault juxtaposes the Orcas Chert with the Constitution Formation to the east. But it is within the Orcas Chert that one can get some sense of how complicated the NWCS is.    

Highly sheared Orcas Chert with fragments of green and possible blue schist

While the NWCS can be described as a melange (French for mix) belt, the Orcas Chert could be described as a melange within the melange. Within the outcrops along the west coast of San Juan Island there are number of highly deformed zones with fragments of other formations embedded withing the sheared Orcas Chert. Its a great place to exercises your ability to determine shear direction and metamorphic fabrics. I take some comfort in that sense of shear has been variously interpreted in these rocks. One thing is clear - these rocks have gone through multiple tectonic events during there journey from the quiet ocean floor sediment basin to being accreted onto the North American Continent and then further faulting and crunching.

Orcas Chert with fragments of limestone

Fossil radiolari in the less mangled chert indicate that the chert is Jurassic to Triassic in age. However, fossil fusulinds within the limestone within the Orcas Chert are Permian. More evidence of the hard life these rocks have had since deposition on the ocean floor. The west coast of San Juan Island is a rare place to see continuous rock outcrops in the low lands of western Washington. Not an unpleasant place to contemplate complex metamorphic and tectonic questions. And there are plenty of other landscape features on this coast as well.  

Southwest coast of San Juan Island

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

San Juan Island Rum Runner

Old boat above a small inlet on the west shore of San Juan Island.
The south end of Vancouver Island across Haro Strait is in the distance

While visiting the west shore of San Juan Island I observed an old steel boat hauled up out of a small harbor. Locals knowledgeable about the boat told me it had been used for running rum during prohibition. The  west shore of San Juan Island is approximately nine miles from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada located across Haro Strait. Islanders had been used to relatively free trade between United States Territory and British Territory during the years that the San Juan Islands were in dispute between the two countries. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 had set the border between U.S. and British territory as the 49th parallel. However, control over the San Juan Islands was not settled until 1872.

Once the United States assumed full official control of the islands a long tradition of smuggling across Haro Strait began almost immediately with shipments of woolens and silk. At that time Victoria was the big city and most goods were moved via water as few roads existed on the mainland. Smuggling operations would ship goods through the multiple passages of the islands and then to points south such as Seattle, Port Townsend, and Tacoma. Besides avoiding duty prohibited cargo included opium into the United States for migrant Chinese workers as well as Chinese workers themselves. Prohibition of alcohol in the United States from 1919 to 1933 lead to very lucrative shipping during that time period. While buried Spanish gold have intrigued island visitors, a lost stash of well aged single malt has an appeal as well. Of course smuggling still goes on with cocaine and marijuana still shipped through the islands. This past year a Canadian boat was abandoned on the shore of San Juan Island and was suspected to have been used to transport goods otherwise not allowed in the United States. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Side Trip to Mount Constitution, Orcas Island

My work day last Friday was tough to beat. A project on the west shore of San Juan Island and then a short visit to a site on Orcas Island. The downside to work trips to the San Juan Islands is coordinating ferry times or flight times. On Friday I drove and took the ferry and the timing worked out well.

Weaving through the San Juan Islands from San Juan Island to Orcas Island

The timing of the ferry from Orcas back to Anacortes (mainland) left me about 3 hours to spend on the island as my Orcas project took little field time. I headed up Mount Constitution on the northeast side of the island. The road was clear to the high plateau at 2,000 feet was clear. The gate just past the switchbacks on the south side of the mountain was closed as beyond that the road to the summit was ice and snow covered. I made the hike to the summit past the still frozen Summit Lake and enjoyed the classic views from the summit including one toward my current home town.

Summit Lake on Orcas Island

Barnes Island and Clark Island in Rosario Strait, Lummi Island,
Hale Passage, Bellingham Bay, Bellingham and Mount Baker 

Sucia Island - a southwest plunging syncline off of Orcas' north shore

View across Strait of Georgia to Sandy Point and Cherry Point  

Not a bad day at all. Mount Constitution is within the 5,000 acre plus Moran State Park. It is an amazing piece of wild mountain terrain with lakes and cliffs high above the Salish Sea. Moran was a ship builder who retired to Orcas Island in the early 1900s. He bought the mountain and offered the land to Washington State in 1911. The State initially turned down the offer! It took 10 years to convince the powers in State government to accept the offer. The site is now one of Washington State's premier State Parks. Moran's vision to share the pleasure and rest that this area provided him was greatly enjoyed this last Friday by a geologist killing some time between ferry rides.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Indian Island U.S. Supreme Court Case

An issue related to Indian Island south of Port Townsend was taken up by the United States Supreme Court yesterday. I previously did a short post on Indian Island HERE. As noted nearly the entirety of Indian Island is owned by the Navy. A loading facility is located approximately two miles across the water from the City of Port Townsend and residences on Marrowstone Island are less than one mile from Indian Island.

Loading crane at Navy weapons depot facility on Indian Island can be seen from
this view from Tamanowas Rock east of Chimacum.

The issue was a public information request by Glenn Scott Milner for a map showing the Explosive Safety Quantity Distance for the Naval Weapons Depot on Indian Island. The Navy declined to provide him the map citing an exemption in the law. Mr. Milner claims that exemption is being misapplied.

Congress did allow exemptions from public information requests and the issue is whether or not the denial by the Navy meets the exemption Congress provided. The Navy could have classified the map, but did not. In fact they gave the map to the local emergency responders. It is a good idea for local emergency responders to know just what sort of materials might be present in case of a fire or other emergency (see more below). Because the map was not classified, local responders provided the map to the newspapers. But the concern is that operations could change and the public may be unaware of the risk posed by the weapons depot.

The issue has moved up through the Federal Court system until it was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. Dave Mann argued the case for Mr. Milner and numerous media interests had filed supporting arguments as the media tends to like open transparent government. I will note I had the pleasure of once working with Mr. Mann as an expert witness on a case.

I did find a few gems in the transcript of the oral arguments.

Judge Beyer stated "They want firemen to have then (the maps), but they do not want people who might blow them up to have them."

Of course this could be turned into "They don't want people that might be blown up to have them (the maps)."

Mr. Mann responded with "We are talking about public waterways, private land around the base and whether or not that land stays secure." In this regard Mr. Mann raises how this issue can impact the landscape.

A number of industries are required to provide hazard maps associated with explosive or dangerous materials stored or used on their sites. I do know that these industries do not always like putting these maps out and they note concerns about being terrorist targets if terrorists know the damage a release or explosion at the plant may cause.

Locating facilities that have highly explosive materials or toxic chemicals away from population centers is one means of reducing risk. And avoiding locating homes near such facilities is the other half of reducing the risk. A large oil refinery in Whatcom County has purchased significant swaths of land around the refinery to limit development from being located within potential danger areas. This approach has protected significant wildlife habitat that would otherwise not have been protected.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pronghorns in Eastern Washington

Pronghorn (Image from Wikipedia)

 I have a clear memory of our family encyclopedia with the a great chart showing animals running speed. Cheetahs were the fastest on the chart with the pronghorn of North America second. Cheetahs can reach 70 mph and pronghorns clock in at 60. But pronghorns can maintain high speeds for long distance and for that I always admired them. The same chart showed that a top human marathoner could out run all animals with one exception - the pronghorn. Being a long distance runner I have always been a great admirer of the pronghorn.

A few years ago while traversing an alluvial fan in Nevada on foot in a snow storm I surprised a pronghorn that was in the incised stream channel. Being within 25 feet of a pronghorn that bolts was a thrill. It put hundreds of feet between us in seconds. After a minute of running it stopped and turned to look back at me. I realized it was at least 3/4 of a mile away! I was no match. Nor would any known predator match the running of a pronghorn.

Significant portions of eastern Washington look a lot like Nevada and eastern Oregon. In fact pronghorn preserves are located in southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada. While we have wild horses like Nevada on the scrub steppe (HERE), there are no pronghorns in Washington State. This question has perplexed me as well as a number of biologists.

Pronghorns used to live in eastern Washington. Lyman (2007) provides an excellent summary of the information that has accumulated regarding pronghorn from archaeological sites. Based on the archaeological record, pronghorn lived in eastern Washington throughout most of the last 10,000 years and were a food source for First Nations people; however, they were never as abundant as elsewhere in their range and eastern Washington was likely marginal habitat with limited connectivity to other pronghorn habitat. Pronghorns appear to have disappeared in eastern Washington prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and other explorations into eastern Washington as there are no unambiguous documented pronghorn observations. Bison were similar to pronghorn in that they were formerly in eastern Washington in numbers less than elsewhere in their range.

While hunting likely impacted pronghorn and bison populations, there were plenty of pronghorn and bison east of the Rocky Mountains well through the mid 1800s. Hence, other factors likely played a role besides hunting by First Nations peoples given that northern plains peoples were highly dependent on hunting.

Lyman (2007) and Lyman and Wolverton (2002) suggests a combination of forage quality, migration obstacles and human predation limited pronghorn and bison populations in eastern Washington. Williams (1987) suggests water content of snow played a factor.

Pronghorns prefer forb plants over grass. Grassier areas of eastern Washington hence would limit pronghorn range. In addition, eastern Washington is very dry in the summer so nutrient values, particularly protein in forage are lower during critical summer months while mothers need milk for young. Access to water would also be a limiting factor for pronghorns in eastern Washington. Deep long lasting snow also poses a problem for pronghorns particularly in areas where forb plants are low growing. A deep snow winter is not uncommon in significant parts of eastern Washington and in areas with generally low snow, one bad year would devastate the population.

Migration corridors between eastern Washington and other pronghorn habitat areas is very restricted. The limited scrub steppe and grass lands of eastern Washington are relatively isolated from other pronghorn areas. Pronghorn habitat in eastern Oregon is continuous with vast tracts of similar habitat in Nevada and Idaho and points beyond. But the Oregon range is separated from eastern Washington by the Blue Mountains and other high forested areas between the Blues and the Cascade Ranges with only a relatively narrow area of suitable habitat connecting the two areas. The very large Columbia River and Snake River as well as a few other rivers also present a significant barrier to in migration. The limited migration would play a role if numbers declined due to any number of factors. One very bad winter with deep wet snow even if rare would be take a long time for population recovery due to the limited migration routes.
Regardless of the natural challenges facing pronghorns in eastern Washington, pronghorns were apparently present throughout the past 10,000 years up until just before the first American and fur trading explorers arrived in the early 1800s. The predator-prey balance with humans may well have been tilted against pronghorns when eastern Washington First Nations obtained horses in the 1700s. The fact that pronghorns were present in eastern Washington for 10,000 years until they disappeared when they did certainly implies some change had taken place. Perhaps a marginal population could not survive the added pressure of hunters on horse back.

I would propose another factor to be added to the forage, migration and snow factors - the local geology and topography. Eastern Washington would be full of potential hunting traps to drive pronghorns toward. Large rivers and cliffs in the scab lands would provide excellent drive locations for hunting relative to other areas where humans and pronghorns interacted. Add the use of horses and perhaps the human predation would have been just enough to finish off the already low pronghorn numbers.

Given our current impacts on the landscape, it is extremely unlikely that pronghorns will ever return to eastern Washington on their own. For one thing, despite their amazing running ability they go under or through fences as the are lousy jumpers. Pronghorns were introduced as a game animal to eastern Washington in the early 1900s, but the population did not survive. Some First Nations groups are considering pronghorn introduction. Perhaps portions of The Yakima Nation Reservation would support pronghorns or the Hanford Reach National Wilderness Area in combination with the adjoining Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Area, Hanford Nuclear Reserve and the Yakima Firing Range or the public lands of the Telford scabland area. I for one would love to see pronghorns eyeing the cars crossing through the Hanford area or on the high ridges between Yakima and Ellensburg.

Further Reading:

Lyman and Wolverton, 2002, The Late Prehistoric Early Historic Game Sink in the Northwestern United States, Conservation Biology.

Lyman, 2007, The Holocene History of Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Eastern Washington State, Northwest Science.

Williams, 2005, Spatial Precipitation Variability, Snowfall and Historical Bison Occurrence in the Northwestern United States, Anthropology Theses Georgia State University.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Few Notes on Washington's Early Winter Weather

Sam enjoys the eastern Washington snow

While the snow and cold air has been scoured out of the low lands of western Washington, eastern Washington remains cold. Once the cold air settles into the inter mountain basin of eastern Washington it takes a more vigorous push of mild Pacific air to scour out the cold air. So for the time being eastern Washington will remain snowy. The Kennewick area got nearly 10 inches of snow last week and no melting yet with more snow on and off this week with occasional freezing rain from warmer air riding over top of the cold air in the basin. To the north in Spokane, it could be a snowy week as well.  This trend will continue as long as the arriving storms off the Pacific Ocean remain on the cool side and do not generate much wind as they cross the Columbia Basin. The east side of the Cascade Range experiences much more winter weather than the brief spells the more marine west side gets. 

I enjoy observing how snow interacts with surfaces and made a couple of minor observations during our brief winter weather in western Washington. The initial snow in Bellingham arrived before the ground was frozen. The pattern of snow on this patio suggests that the metal patio furniture acted as a heat transfer and the cement froze faster adjacent to where the furniture touched the ground surface. 

This pattern of the initial snow melting and forming a layer of hard ice is a common feature of snow in western Washington lowland areas. It is more than people not knowing how to drive on icy roads - the roads are really icy. Throw in steep drumlin hills or steep sided anticlines and driving gets tough.

This image is a view of our neighbors roof. The clumps of snow angling across the roof are the inverted tracks of a squirrel. The squirrel had run crossed the snowy roof several times leaving tracks in the snow. The compressed snow stayed on the roof when the wind blew nearly all the loose non packed snow off the roof.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paper Birch in Western Washington

The cold winds howling out of the lower Fraser Valley got me thinking about paper birch trees. When George Vancouver sailed into the Salish Sea he noted the stands of birch trees along the shores of a bay in what is now Whatcom County in northwest Washington and named the bay Birch Bay.

Paper birch are a very common tree of northern North America, but are not common in western Washington. The tree's natural range extends down to Everett, but no further south. The tree is more common as one heads north along the BC coast. It grows in disturbed areas and is then crowded out by conifers.

At the time of Vancouver's exploration, the forests around Birch By would have had disturbances that would allow paper bark birch to thrive. One would be simply humans. Birch Bay was an area with significant First Nations population and they would likely to have disturbed the forest around the bay for fire wood, building materials, and simply moving settlement sites. I have done some geology hazard assessment work around the bluffs of Birch Bay and large middens of shells and other debris are not uncommon along the bluff slopes and are such that a non archaeologist can readily identify them.

The other disturbance would be fire. Fires set by First Nations people for managing the landscape for desired wildlife and/or plants was a common practice. Natural fires may have taken place as well.

Yet another disturbace would be the very high winds that flow out of the Fraser Valley. Evergreens growing on shallow wet soils are susceptible to blow down. During a rather intense outflow windstorm in 1991 hundreds of Douglas fir were blown over in the low land areas of western Whatcom County when high winds arrived suddenly with the ground being wet and soft.

Of course conditions like these exist in other places as well in western Washington, so another factor must be present that limits the range of paper bark birch. One idea that readily comes to mind is temperature. Paper birch is a tree of the north. A wood borer, bronze birch borer, severely damages birch trees and will kill the tree. One of the recommendations for managing the pest when you have birch trees in your yard is lots of water and mulch to keep the roots cool and planting locations on the north and east sides of the house. The tree can fend off the borer longer if it is kept cool. Hence, birch trees will do better in cooler climates. Cold temperatures will not eliminate birch borers and it is not the only controlling factor on birch borers, but it will slow them down. Birch borers are found throughout the paper bark birch range but are more common in the southern edge of the range and appear to be a major factor in the paper birch range (Haak, 1996).

The plunging temperatures associated with Fraser outflow winds, combined cool summers, past and perhaps present day disturbances and a borer may be why Birch Bay is unique in Washington State as having this otherwise common tree.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cold Walk Home This Evening

Update: The walk home met my expectations. Very cold with the highlight being when I braced my legs and let the wind push me along the ice. Perhaps I am being called to start ice sailing.

Sunday morning up the Skagit Valley

Yesterday I did some field work. (Yes, I work on Sunday sometimes). I encountered a bit of snow at my first site up the Skagit Valley near the town of Concrete. I then headed down to the South Fork Stilliguamish between Arlington and Granite Falls. A few snow flakes but mostly got cold hands getting my fingers wrapped around roots and cedar branches because of bad footing while negotiating the steep slopes above the river. Compact glacial clays make for very lousy footing. All in all a nice day out in the snow and forest.

Working along the bank of the S.F. Stilly

My walk home from my office this evening will not be nearly as pleasant as yesterday's field trip. The Fraser outflow is on full force with gusts in the 60 mph range blowing Friday's snow all over and sidewalks that tempt one to get out the crampons.

View from my office of wind swept Senior Center parking lot

Tri Cities, Economic Recovery and a Little Politics

Politics does influence and shape Washington's landscape. Much of eastern Washington's present landscape was shaped by the New Deal politics of the 1930s and those political decisions made years ago and far from Washington State continue to influence and shape what Washington State looks like.

An employment study by Garner Economics on employment growth over the past five years in metropolitan areas around the United Sates provides a rather grim picture. The employment growth in most places has been negative.  A very rare exception has been the Tri-Cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, Washington. The Tri-Cities has seen the number of jobs grow over the past 5 years by 5.4%. It is the only metro area in Washington State with positive job growth for the period. All the others are in the negative, that is they lost jobs.

The economic situation many communities find themselves in often has little to do with local decisions. Policies and economic circumstances miles away have great influence. The fate of towns and cities in Washington State have been profoundly determined by decisions made miles away. Perhaps the easiest to see are the small towns that were by-passed by railroads in the late 1800s. Or in more recent years the slow depopulation of areas as timber harvests have declined from previous boom years and the industry modernized reducing the number of workers. Or the coastal fishing communities that have collapsed as fish stocks have plummeted due to decisions made miles away that impacted salmon habitat on rivers throughout the northwest.
The Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco have been shaped greatly by decisions made in Washington D.C.  All three were very small out of the way places until the combination of excess hydro electric power (New Deal politics), a big river (the Columbia),  remoteness and a World War (politics again)brought about the decision to select the area just to the north as the site for manufacturing fuel for atomic weapons. Less than 2,000 people lived in Kennewick in 1940. Today the population is estimated to be 67,000.

The most recent anomalous job situation in the Tri-Cities has a great deal to do with federal economic policy. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has received $1.96 billion in federal economic recovery money primarily for speeding the on going and very complex and in some cases dangerous cleanup work on wastes associated with the production of weapons grade nuclear fuel at the site. The federal recovery funding that was part of the economic stimulus package funded 3,124 full time Hanford jobs. Not a bad deal for an area that votes strongly Republican with a congressman that opposed to the federal economic recovery stimulus funding. Doc Hasting (R) the local U.S. Congressman stated, "I fully support Congress acting now in the stimulus bill, the Fiscal Year 2009 appropriations bill and the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to enact more funding for these efforts (cleanup)." before he voted against the federal economic recovery funding that funded the 3,124 new jobs in the Tri-Cities.

At present it appears that as federal funding drops off next year, the recently created jobs will no longer be funded and the economic condition of the Tri-Cities will be greatly altered.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Western Washington Snow - a Few Miles Makes the Difference

As of 10:30 Bellingham 28F with 3 inches of snow. 20 miles to the south Mount Vernon 40F. Seattle is 46F. The Fraser out flow makes a big difference in the local weather.

Confessions of a Weather Junkie

The current weather pattern causes me to do frequently check out the various weather models. I do have a reputation to uphold as friends and associates flatter me this time of year by asking me what they should expect regarding the weather. And if I am not up to speed on the latest model runs and temperatures they express disappointment.

Besides I love snow and weather events like the potential set up for low land western Washington snow impacts our Washington landscape. So at 10:30 I checked some temperatures around the state and it confirms an interesting pattern as it cools down.

Abotsford                         32     
Bellingham                        34
Mount Vernon                 41
Seattle                               45
Portland                            45
Kennewick                        46
Spokane                             34
Kettle Falls                        37

Abotsford is just north of the border at the mouth of the Fraser River Valley hence it gets cold first as the cold air flows down the Frasser out of the deep interior of British Columbia. Some of that cold air has started to arrive in Bellingham, but points south are all in the 40s. Bellingham will often get colder than even cold spots in eastern Washington during the early stages of Arctic air arrival as the Frasser Valley is an efficient conduit, but typically Spokane and certainly Kettle Falls get much colder.

All said an interesting few days ahead for us weather junkies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yakima Fold Belt to be Displayed in Yemen

Sun Sets on Horse Heaven Hills - Lisa McShane

This summer Lisa and I headed to the hinge in the Horse Heaven Hills anticline south of Kiona, Washington for an evening picnic. I posted about this site picnic-at-hinge-in-horse-heaven-hills. That nice summer venture is heading to Yemen. Art in the Embassies Program selected one of Lisa's paintings to hang in the United States Embassy in Yemen. Very cool to have a part of Washington State head half way round the world. We gave the painting a nice send off with Horse Heaven Hills wine.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow? and the Olympic Rain Shadow Reversal

Late last week long term weather models were indicating the formation of a deep low sliding down the coast with cold temperatures and high pressure in the interior of British Columbia. That model was for ten days into the future meaning this next weekend. That long term forecast has held up so far - pretty amazing how well weather models are working. The odds are still a bit long that it will snow this weekend, but it will be getting colder. Essentially a pressure gradient is setup that causes the cold interior air to be drawn out towards the coast. CBC radio (Canadian Broadcasting Company) often will say "outflow winds expected" during these events and everyone on the BC coast knows what that means - cold winds blowing down the the fjords and deep valleys along the coast.

For my town tucked up adjacent to the Canadian border it means outflow winds down the Fraser River Valley. The Fraser extends deep into the interior of British Columbia and hence makes a great conduit for air flow out of the interior and into the border area between Vancouver and Bellingham. This micro climate can really be a bit of a shock. Whatcom County low land areas go from typical mild 40s and 50s and wet marine weather to weather that is more like Minnesota with temperatures dropping to the 0 F degree range and winds of 50 mph. The worst I have experienced here was -5 F with steady 70 mph and gusts to 100 mph. Even a few miles can make a big difference. Locally people know that being north of Smith Road means way higher northeast winds when these conditions develop. The small border town of Sumas sitting right where the Fraser Valley begins to widen really gets blasted by these winds. Twice I have had drilling projects near Sumas during outflow events and the drillers arriving from south Puget Sound in both cases were not prepared for the weather conditions.

The outflow winds out of the Fraser create other micro climate issues beyond Whatcom County. The San Juan Islands get hit by these winds as well. And at the Olympic Mountains the rain shadow effect gets reversed. More typical rain storms coming off the Pacific collide with the south and west sides of the Olympics and areas to the north and northeast are in a rain shadow with yearly precipitation well under 20 inches. But during the northeast air flow events the air uplifts along the northern side of the Olympic Range and the north slopes get lots of snow. This phenomenon shows up in the local probability snow forecast for next Monday.

If this long term forecast holds up, Bellingham will get a light snow Monday and Port Angeles will be getting 5 inches with very heavy snow on the slopes of the Olympics as the air flows up the slopes. The Press Expedition that traveled into and through the Olympic Range experienced this phenomenon with days of snow even at low elevations during the early days of their trek.

After some delay it appears that the La Nina pattern of storm systems sending low pressure systems down along the coast with cold high pressure in land is staring to get set up so lots of snow chances are on the way.   

Monday, November 15, 2010

A follow up note on Marie Dorion

As I noted in the previous blog on Marie Dorion, after she survived the winter in the Blue Mountains she spent time at Fort Okanogan and Fort Walla Walla. These forts were not military forts. They were fur trading posts set up by the Hudson Bay Company for trading purposes and as centers of operation. She lived at these posts from 1814 to 1840.

Which got me wondering if she or her two sons had encountered David Douglas, the English naturalist who visited the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1820s and spent time at both forts. David Douglas' name covers lots of Washington's landscape as the Douglas fir bears his name. I found one reference to Toupin, Marie's third husband. Douglas had traveled with Toupin and several other Hudson Bay Company members to the Clearwater and Snake River junction east of Walla Walla. Toupin was an interpreter. He apparently got in a heated dispute with a Nez Perce chief and according to Douglas "the poor man of language had a handful of his long jet hair torn out by the roots". Toupin survived the encounter and he and Marie moved to the Willamette Valley in 1840. Being very early settlers there, they would have been of great assistance to all new comers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marie Dorion - One Very Tough Woman

Where the Snake River joins the Columbia River there is a State Park named for Sacagawea. There has been much debate regarding Sacagawea's role on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805-1806. How helpful she was at key points of that expedition is hard to know, but all historians and anyone reading about the expedition agree that what she accomplished was impressive.  She traveled across the Continental divide and back via dug out canoes and horseback all the while enduring the hardships of that journey while caring for her new born infant. A few miles downstream of the confluence of the Snake and Columbia at the mouth of the Walla Walla River is another park in honor of another woman from the same era and of similar circumstances.  Madame Dorion Memorial Park at the mouth of the Walla Walla River commemorates Marie Dorion's winter of 1814 crossing of the Blue Mountains with her two young children as the sole survivors from an attack by Bannock Indians.  But that experience was only one of a series of hardships she endured.

Marie Dorion qualifies as the very first woman pioneer in the Pacific Northwest. Her path to being the first woman pioneer was not done intentionally and her trip west predated any pioneer trips by decades. While Sacagewea crossed the continental divide and reached the Pacific Ocean, Marie Dorion made the journey under much more difficult circumstances - Marie Dorion did it while pregnant and with two small small children and as part of a party that could be described as incompetent.

Marie was the daughter of an Iowa Indian and was married to Pierre Dorion, the son of a Yankton Sioux mother and French Candian father. Pierre was hired by Wilson Hunt to help guide the 1810 Astoria Expedition. This was the second expedition to cross the continent to the mouth of the Columbia. Unlike the government operated Corps of Discovery - Lewis and Clark Expedition, this expedition was a commercially funded expedition. The goal was to establish an overland route and network of fur trading posts from Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia.

Despite having two small children and being pregnant, Marie joined the expedition. Dorion biographer Jerome Peltier and historian Bill Gullick wrote that Pierre was given an advance that he attempted to pocket and celebrated by drinking. The story is that Marie insisted that he meet his obligation. Pierre reportedly struck Marie and she proceeded to knock him out with a club and left him only to rejoin him upon his meeting his obligation of being a guide and translator on the expedition.

The expedition headed up the Missouri River by boat and then headed overland through present day northern Wyoming. They ventured into lands and across mountains that were barely understood and ended up in southeastern Idaho on the Snake River. At this point the party made a huge mistake. They left the horses and headed down the Snake in dugout canoes. It did not take long to realize this approach could not work as there are many rapids and falls. After one man drowned they made their second mistake; they then proceeded by foot with part of the party on the south side and part on the north side of the river. Picture being 7 months pregnant and walking with two small children in late October in Idaho with a group of men making bad choices! Or if your a guy think of the wrath you would bring upon yourself having your wife walk miles with little food while pregnant.

The party was able to obtain horses through purchase and theft and eventually Marie was able to ride again. By all accounts the split up parties suffered near starvation. On December 30, 1811 she gave birth on the trail in the Grande Ronde Valley of northeastern Oregon. According to Washington Irving "In the course of the following morning the Dorion family made its reappearance. Pierre came trudging in advance, followed by his valued, though skeleton steed, on which was mounted (Marie) with her new-born infant in her arms, and her boy of two years wrapped in blankets and slung at her side. The mother looked as unconcerned as if nothing had happened to her." From this it appears that the main party was so desperate that they had proceeded without waiting for the mother to bear a child. The child died on January 7, 1812. The Grande Ronde Valley is not a warm place in the winter. Hence Marie bore the first child born on what later became the Oregon Trail and the same child was the first child to die on the Oregon Trail.  Somehow the party was able to get across the Blue Mountains and arrived at the poorly operating Astoria fur trading post in February 1812.  Other portions of the party arrived at different times with some having suffered terribly with numerous deaths.

Marie Dorion left Astoria with her husband on a fur trapping expedition to southern Idaho in 1813. The trappers headed out onto various streams and rivers to trap and Marie stayed at the main encampment with her children. Upon hearing rumors that local tribes were planning on attacking the trappers she headed out with her children to warn her husband. Too late, she found he and is associates had been killed with one exception. She returned to the base camp with the wounded man. Arriving at the base camp she found all those there had also been killed while she was gone. The wounded man then died.

Marie with her two children then headed west over the Blue Mountains where they were trapped by deep snow. They spent two months living on frozen horse meat, frozen berries, inner bark of trees and occasional rodents before they walked out to the Walla Walla River in the spring where Walla Walla tribal people took them in.

Marie remained in the Pacific Northwest living at Fort Okanogan and later Fort Walla Walla where she married twice more and had three more children. She and her husband then moved to Oregon's Willamette Valley in 1840 as one of the early pioneer family's of French Prairie.

I imagine Marie Dorion provided valuable information regarding the route that she had taken that later became known as the Oregon Trail. She was part of an American push into the Pacific Northwest. Her impact on the landscape of Washington State may be a bit uncertain, but she was a member of the party that essentially found the route of the Oregon Trail. Other party members returned east further to the south establishing a better way across what is now Wyoming. Without that early path finding, Washington State and Oregon may very well have become a southern extension of British Columbia.

But more than anything I can not be anything but impressed with just how tough she must have been as she trudged across the Snake River Plain with her two young sons while heavily pregnant or weathered two cold months in the Blue Mountains with them. I'll be giving the small park at the mouth of the Walla Walla River a nod every time I pass by.

Information for this post was derived from Bill Gullick's Roadside History of Oregon, Jerome Peltier's Madame Dorion, and Washington Irving's Astoria.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Slide Mountain Landslide on the North Fork Nooksack River

Last week before heading to eastern Washington I had a project up the Nooksack River Valley in Whatcom County. Before I left I had noticed in LIDAR imagery that the North Fork Nooksack valley floor just past Maple Falls appeared very lumpy. There are lots of old very large landslides on the steep mountain slopes in the North Fork Nooksack valley. A large landslide has been recognized on the north side of the of the aptly named Slide Mountain and was included on a geologic map of the area by Moen in 1961. The bedrock failure took place within the Chuckanut Formation. The Chuckanut Formation consists of layered sand stone, mud stone and occasional coal seams. The layers dip steeply to the north on the north end of Slide Mountain.

LIDAR of north end of Slide Mountain and lumpy ground on valley floor

Google Earth oblique view looking up the North Fork Nooksack valley to the east with failure area on Slide Mountain marked.

So while driving up the valley I slowed down and noticed that indeed the ground along this stretch of highway is a bit lumpy with boulders strewn about in the woods including the one shown below.

One of numerous boulders on the valley floor

Area along highway east of Maple Falls where boulders from the slide can be seen

Based on the scattered boulders that extend across the valley, this slide covered the entire valley floor and likely at least temporarily backed up the river. The large boulders from the slide are limiting the channel migration such that the river is entrenched along this reach of the river versus the multiple braided channels more typical upstream and downstream. Along portions of the river bank it appears that the river bank is lined by rip rap boulders to prevent erosion, but in this case the rip rap is natural.

Rocks from landslide line river bank slowing erosion

Another look at the LIDAR shows that the prior to the slide the river had carved into the glacial sediments on the north side of the valley, but now the river is entrenched into the slide deposit. I am not aware of anyone having dated the landslide, but if buried trees could be found beneath the slide deposit, a date could be derived.

One added treat while walking and crawling along the river bank, I spotted this palm frond fossil on one of the sandstone boulders.

Palm frond fossils in boulder within the landslide deposit