Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bottom and Shores of Lake Missoula

On the way to Missoula we passed through a daylight road cut on Interstate 90 near the hamlet of Alberton approximately 16 miles north of Missoula. I'd passed through this road cut before, but this time I was ready and pulled out my camera for a couple of pictures as we passed through the exposed silts on either side of the road. Roadside geology on the fly.

Layered silts and clays at the Nine Mile Section on Interstate 90 northwest of Missoula, Montana

These distinctly layered silts and clays represent alternating paler river silt deposits and the darker lake deposits. Chambers and Alt report 36 distinct layers. The lake sediments were laid down on the bottom of Lake Missoula each time the lake filled with water when the Clark Fork River was dammed by glacial ice between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago. As can be seen in the distinct silt layers, the river was dammed and then drained on numerous occasions - something like 40 times.

Looking at the slopes of the mountainsides east of Missoula on either side of Hellsgate where the Clark Fork River flows out into the broad valley where Missoula is located horizontal lines can be seen on the slopes. These lines mark the former shoreline of glacial Lake Missoula. They are wave cut terraces marking the various lake levels as the lake filled with water when the Clark Fork was dammed. The entire Clark Fork valley filled with water along with tributary river valleys such as the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. In all the lake covered as much as 2,900 square miles.

Faint horizontal lake shore terraces on the slopes above Missoula. Montana

The lake filled until it floated the ice dam blocking the river and then the entire lake drained rapidly across eastern Washington, down the Columbia Gorge through present day Portland shaping vast tracts of the landscape of Washington and Oregon. Water backing up the Yakima, Walla Walla and Willamette valleys silts that created some of the best farmland in the world.

The rich farmland of the Willamette Valley was the impetus of the early settlement of the Pacific Northwest by Americans. This in turn led to the bustling City of Portland. And from Portland two bands traveled up the former flood route to the former lake bed in Missoula last week. We very much enjoyed the Decemberists and Typhoon during our stay in Missoula.  Typhoon was the opening band. I loved the audacity of a 12 or was it 13 member band.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coal Stories - Including a Link Showing Local Coal Politics at Work

Lots of coal news this past couple of weeks with a fair bit revolving around the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. What does the Powder River Basin have to do with the Washington landscape? Coal from the Powder River is currently being shipped via long coal trains through Washington State to a coal terminal in southwest British Columbia and there are active efforts to construct very large coal shipping terminals in Washington State to ship Powder River coal.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $50 million dollar gift to the Sierra Club to help eliminate coal fired power plants washingtonpost./national/health-science/mayor-bloomberg-gives-50-million-to-fight-coal-fired-power-plants. Not much direct impact to Washington State since Washington's only coal fired electric power plant is proposed to close in the next few years. But there are indirect impacts as coal use shifts and possibly an impact on CO2 and the rate of climate change.

In the north Powder River Basin a billionaire candy magnate Forrest Mars purchased a one third interest in the Tongue River Railroad. By purchasing the stake in the railroad, Mars will block the railroad from crossing his ranch but now owns a stake in the rest of the line along with Arch Coal and BNSF. Arch and BNSF along with Mars plan to build a railroad line to Miles City, Montana so that Powder River coal mined in the Ashland area can be shipped via rail to the existing main line railroads through Miles City. From Miles City Arch and BNSF can run coal trains to power plants and have every intent to use railroad lines to coal terminals for shipment to Asia. Mars apparently will no longer be supporting legal efforts to block the railroad. coal railroad fight deal.

I found this letter to the editor in the Billings paper an interesting juxtaposition of property rights and coal mining development and railroads billingsgazette/mailbag. The construction of railroad lines through the Powder River Basin has opened up coal mining of the basin far beyond its previous mining activity. The State of Montana has eminent domain laws that are very favorable to railroad and pipeline proposals. The intent of the laws is to ease the opening of otherwise non economic coal deposits. The ranch land taken by private corporations through eminent domain is not expensive as much of it is dry land ranch, but the impact to ranchers is extensive. What I find interesting about the Montana laws is that normally Republicans are associated with private property rights, but when it comes to eminent domain laws in Montana the Democrats stand behind the private property rights of ranchers and the Republicans are strong advocates for eminent domain for use by private corporations - in this case railroads and gas extraction companies.

When I got back to Bellingham I read an article by Bellingham Herald's John Stark on Bellingham's version of coal politics bellingham-mayoral-candidates. The incumbent mayor is attempting to turn the entire race into a campaign over the proposed coal terminal despite the mayor having no role in the permitting process. Mr. Stark pointed out that the mayor initially was supportive of the project in February. Mr. Stark did not note that in October of 2010 the mayor proposed a resolution in favor of the coal terminal 25oct2010_Resolution Supporting Coal Terminal. The final recital of the resolution states "Whereas the Mayor of Bellingham, Dan Pike, joins the Council in its strong support of this project". The resolution was withdrawn as apparently the City Council did not share the mayor's enthusiasm for the coal terminal.

And lastly this press release showing that powerful financial forces are at work in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

ST. LOUIS, July 13, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ --

Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) today announced that it is the winning bidder for the control of approximately 220 million tons of low sulfur coal reserves in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

The winning bid for the reserves was $0.95 per mineable ton, made through a sealed bid auction process. The company intends to add the "Belle Ayr North" reserve area to the assigned reserves related to the Caballo Mine, which had 2010 sales of 23.5 million tons and reserves of 822 million tons. The new reserve block would extend the mine life, increase the average Btu of the mine, allow for increased mine production as demand warrants and enable greater mine optimization.
The new reserve lease also extends Peabody's leadership in the United States' largest and most productive coal region. Peabody controls 2.9 billion tons of Powder River Basin coal reserves, and is well-positioned to meet the strong expected long-term demand growth from the region. The Powder River Basin continues to grow to serve new power plants and increased consumption from existing plants. Powder River Basin coal also is in increasing demand for exports to fast-growing Asian markets.
Peabody is the world's largest private-sector coal company and a global leader in clean coal solutions. With 2010 sales of 246 million tons and nearly $7 billion in revenues, Peabody fuels 10 percent of U.S. power and 2 percent of worldwide electricity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Refrigerated Air on the Skagit River

I got a nice dose of 90 degree weather the past few days. Not much shade, but then non of that view obscuring vegetation. Had a nice break in an ice cold lake and cold beer afterwards.

After being in 90 degree weather it was back to cool wet western Washington and temperatures in the 50s(to be fair it was apparently sunny and warm while I was gone). The cold water of the Skagit River was cold enough to cause the wet air above the river to condense creating a cold, foggy layer of air along the top of the river.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Touchet River - Another Entrenched Meander

Entrenched meanders on the Touchet River on the left portion of photo
The river is flowing south away towards the upper portion of the photo and
the Walla Walla River. The Columbia River and curves through Wallula Gap in the upper right.
Note the longitudinal dunes aligned towards Wallula Gap to the right of the Touchet River

The Yakima River (antecedent-yakima-river) is not the only entrenched meander river in eastern Washington. A quiet, off the beaten path section of the Touchet River flows through a set of entrenched meanders on its way to the Walla Walla Valley. Although I have driven the road along the this section of the Touchet River, I had never thought of it as an entrenched meander until passing high overhead on a recent trip.

The Touchet River was inundated with flood waters from the great outburst floods from Glacial Lake Missoula as the flood water backed up at the narrow passage of Wallula Gap forming a temporary lake (Lake Lewis) that filled the valleys of the lower Columbia Basin in eastern Washington.

Map showing highest flood levels from the Missoula Floods 

Silts carried by those floods were deposited throughout Lake Lewis particularly in quiet back water areas. Each flood left a distinct layer of sediment and at least 40 distinct layers have been identified. These layers are well exposed in the lower Touchet Valley and the sides of the Walla Walla Valley in the vicinity of Touchet, Washington and are called the Touchet Beds.

Despite the flood sediments the entrenched meanders remained in tact. This particular area is not an area of uplift so the entrenched meanders may be a result of lowering of the Columbia River system starting approximately 3.4 million years ago.

On their return journey, Lewis and Clark followed the Touchet River on horseback as the valley was a trail from the Wallula Gap area to the Snake River near Clarkston. The party passed along the entrenched meanders of the Touchet on the west side across an area called Eureka Flats. Clark noted the sand dunes on Eureka Flats in his journal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Antecedent Yakima River

The Yakima River meanders through the Yakima Fold Belt
between Ellensburg and Yakima
River flow is from lower right towards upper left

The Yakima river drains a large area of the east side of the Cascade Range with headwaters extending up to the crest of the range. The river supplies water for irrigated farms throughout its length and water rights and lack of water rights has been an ongoing struggle along the river for many years.

I had a nice view of the Yakima River between Ellensburg and Selah on a recent trip. The Yakima River's passage through the ridges of the Yakima Fold belt is a classic antecedent river. That is the river was there before the ridges formed. The meandering nature of the ancestral river is preserved where the river is entrenched and deeply incised through the ridge areas. The Yakima Canyon in the above picture is a classic example of entrenched meanders of an antecedent river.

An interesting feature of the river is that outside the meander loops stretches in the entrenched valley the river is more typically a braided stream with multiple rapidly shifting channels. The river alternates between these styles of flow as it passes through broad alluvial valleys and ridges.

Broad nearly circular loop forming a goose neck just south of the Kittitas Valley near Ellensburg

The exact cause of why the Yakima River, and for that matter a number of other rivers in the Columbia River system) became so entrenched has not entirely certain. The entrenching of the Yakima began approximately 3.4 million years ago with large volumes of previously deposited sediments in the valleys between the ridges and within the Columbia Basin removed (Reidel and others, 1994). I like the idea that the gradient of the river system changed once the Columbia became established in its current route through the Cascade Range. Prior to the down cutting there was a period of wide spread lake deposition within the Columbia Basin suggesting that Cascade volcanism had created a blockage of the Columbia system.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cascade Rain Shadow, Edge Habitat and Wolves

Cascade rain shadow

After flying up through the cloudy sky of western Washington last week I got an overhead view of the rain shadow while crossing the Cascade Range. The sky or in my case the view changed abruptly from complete overcast to clear. With the change in cloud cover and rain fall amounts there is a rapid change in the landscape from tree covered thick forest to grass and scrub steppe. 

Vegetation shift from forest on the west (right) and grass lands to the east

I was particularly interested in this landscape as just a few days before a wolf pack had been confirmed near this area. The mix of forest and grass lands on the east slope of this part of the Cascade Range makes for very good elk and deer habitat. Wolves have been reported in this area for some time by a locals but were very recently confirmed to be present via motion cameras and DNA testing.

On the ground I have always thought of the ecosystem in this area as being very dynamic. It is an area with cold snowy winters that sometimes can be very severe. The summer can be exceptionally hot and is very susceptible to big grass land fires and forest fires. The elk and other wildlife move east and west and up and down in elevations with the seasons moving to where the forage is best. With wolves entering the area, the elk will likely make moves to avoid predation as well. And of course how this plays out with people will be a new episode in natural resource management for Washington State.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Conglomerate Erratic and Link to Northwest Geology Field Trips Write Up of a Huge Erratic

Last week while working along a shoreline I came across a conglomerate boulder on the shoreline of Dabob by off of Hood Canal. The boulder was transported by glacial ice from an outcrop that is at least approximately 80 miles away. The boulder is a glacial erratic. I have seen numerous conglomerate erratics, but more often than not they are metamorphosed conglomerate. that is they were cooked a bit and slightly recrystallized. Meta conglomerates will break across the cobbles and pebbles whereas non metamorphosed conglomerates break around the pebbles and cobbles.   

Conglomerate Erratic

Close up of the pebbles showing surface of boulder broke around pebbles

David Tucker has become the gate keeper of Washington State erratics. He just put up a post on a huge erratic at the edge of a neighborhood park in Lake Stevens the-lake-stevens-monster-largest-erratic-in-washington-largest-in-the-us?. His posts on erratics are well worth checking out. For a magma and strato volcano guy he has been behavior has become erratic. (Yuk, but I could not help it)

As simple of a geologic concept as erratics are they are still a great deal of fun to discover. And it is great fun to speculate where they came from particularly when they are many miles from the nearest bedrock outcrop or are very out of place compared to the nearby bedrock exposures such as the erratic pictured above. This particular erratic appears to be a block of Huntingdon Formation or Chuckanut Formation from Whatcom County. Typically most people only wonder about the big erratics. However, David points out that even the pebbles in glacial drift are erratics.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bellingham and Fort Collins - Bikes, Beer and Coal Trains - a Tale of Two Cities

Update: An alert reader noted long coal trains were passing through Bellingham as early as 2005 and included a dated photograph.

A long coal train pulls through Fort Collins, Colorado

Bellingham, Washington and Fort Collins, Colorado share some traits. They are similar in size, are proximal to large cities(Seattle and Denver) but are too far away to be suburbs, they are near mountains and both cities are highly regarded bicycle and beer communities. Bellingham and Fort Collins share another trait; coal trains from Montana and Wyoming pass through both cities on the way to supply electric power plants.

The proposed coal terminal northwest of Bellingham at Cherry Point has raised concerns about increased train traffic that would generated. I began noticing long coal trains began passing through Bellingham on the way to the Roberts Bank coal terminal in southwest British Columbia approximately one year ago; however, long coal trains were passing through Bellingham at least as early as 2005 according to a reader. But the number of trains has been limited due to the fact the Roberts Bank terminal is essentially operating at capacity with the bulk of its coal coming from mines in Canada. Some of the Cherry Point coal terminal opponents have argued that the increased train traffic through Bellingham will greatly hamper redevelopment of the Bellingham waterfront as the rail line passes through the waterfront area. The Port of Bellingham has claimed that this would not be so as the redevelopment will include a realignment of the railroad and the construction of overpasses. Although how the realignment and overpasses will be paid for is a lingering question. Some project opponents have been running newspaper adds with a train in the advertisement. Early on some City of Bellingham leaders and train opponents in Bellingham publicly suggested rerouting the trains along the Highway 9 area through the South Fork Nooksack Valley and through eastern Whatcom County to avoid Bellingham altogether. This idea was not particularly welcome by the residents living in eastern Whatcom County.

All this talk about trains sensitized me to the hearing of train horns and looking at train traffic. Last fall I was in Fort Collins, Colorado crossing train tracks several times each day I was there but I hardly noticed the trains. On my most recent trip to Fort Collins I was hyper aware of the trains and noted the trains passing through the city.

The main rail line in the area passes through downtown Fort Collins after it crosses the main north-south U.S. Highway at the north end of the downtown area. The railroad then heads north-south parallel to the highway (the main downtown street) one block west of the highway. The railroad line runs down the middle of the street on this route. There are no overpasses in the downtown area or at the main highway crossing just north of downtown.

The level of train traffic in Fort Collins is approximately the same as what is projected to pass through Bellingham if the coal terminal is constructed at Cherry Point. Approximately 20 trains pass through Fort Collins each day. Some of the trains passing through Fort Collins are one mile plus long coal trains. I also saw very long trains of liquid petroleum tanks. Fort Collins is not a railroad quiet zone; the horn is blared throughout the time the trains transit through the city at a frequency much more than the frequency of horn blaring in Bellingham. Where there are several street crossings of the tracks in Bellingham, in Fort Collins the train tracks run down the middle of a very urban street with dozens of street crossings. The trains passing through Fort Collins travel at speed of approximately 10 mph. Crossing wait times were as much as 9 minutes.

Approaching BNSF pulling coal cars

View down Madison Street looking south
View looking north at the same time as the picture above

Tanker cars pass through Fort Collins

Trains have been part of Fort Collins life for a long time and perhaps the residences there simply adjusted a long time ago. I did talk to some that did not like the trains, but accepted them as part of life in Fort Collins - the primary complaint was the noise of the horns at night. I was staying a block and a half from the tracks and definitely heard the train. The train does pass through the Colorado State University campus as well as numerous bars and taverns and this is not a good combination from a safety perspective as drunks try to hop the train for a lift through the city.

I was interested if the presence of a busy railroad track with noise and delays at crossings disrupted development or business. Perhaps Fort Collins is unique, but the train traffic did not seem to have had any appreciable impact on development in the downtown area or even on the street immediately abutting the tracks. I was told that there was a bar that discounted drinks when the train passed by.

Breakfast by the tracks which are located in the middle of the street on the right

Busy street scene abutting tracks

Cafe with outdoor eating area next to rail line

Organic cafe next to tracks

Bakery and yoga along the rail line

Folks enjoying outdoor eating as the train passes by

In addition to the numerous restaurants with outdoor eating and many shops there are a large number of new buildings including large office buildings near the tracks and even on the street the trains pass down.

Although the trains do not appear to have greatly diminished development in Fort Collins, there has been talk of building a new railroad line through eastern Colorado to avoid many of the Front Range communities that have grown just east of the Rocky Mountain front. This would move considerable freight train traffic away from several cities and make shipping freight through eastern Colorado much faster. This is particularly true of shipping Powder River coal from Wyoming to power plants in Texas. However, this possible railroad line would not decrease train traffic passing through Fort Collins.

The proposed Cherry Point coal terminal presents a number of interesting policy issues. Train traffic is simply one. In speaking with people about trains in Fort Collins, it was clear that there was a range of opinion and acceptance. Given the huge coal reserves the United States has and the unlikely political support to reduce CO2 emissions at the national level, coal freight trains may be a challenge for many communities. But at least in Fort Collins the city with the railroad running through its downtown streets seems to be doing OK.

I have previously posted on the proposed coal shipping terminals in Washington State as this issue is a great example of process and policy and how our Washington State landscape is shaped. Initially the Cherry Point coal terminal proponents launched a very strong PR campaign coal-terminal-preemptive-strike. Opponents have rallied in opposition cherry-point-coal-terminal-update, and the issue has now become politicized at least at the local level coal-politics-comes-to-washington.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Geology Prank at Amboy Crater - Repost

I posted this last weekend, but apparently notifications of my posts were down due to some yet to be determined problem with post feeder and location tags. Hence, not very may people saw this earlier post.

I was recently in central Oregon where I got a great view of the Oregon Cascades. In Oregon the range is a gentle rise with an alignment of large snow and ice clad strato volcanoes and a large number of cinder cones. Whenever I am in the Bend, Oregon area I am amazed at the number of volcanic peaks and cones. Perhaps it is a lesson in geologic time that an area that is so clearly an active volcanic center has not had an eruption over the past 100 years. Evidence of past eruptions is everywhere.

The character of the Cascades in Oregon extends into southern Washington with Mount Adams rising hugely above the area surrounded by much lesser cinder cones and eruptive vents. Several large lava flows in this area have yet to develop soil with trees growing out of the cracks and joints and small pockets of soil.

Traveling through this area and seeing all the cinder cones reminded me of a geologic prank pulled off by a group of high school kids in the desert of southern California. I first heard about it directly from someone that claimed to be one of perpetrators of the deed. He had a fair bit of credibility as a park ranger. He told the story of growing up in Amboy, California back when salts were still being mined on the nearby desert lake bed.

It is a remote area, but at the time was located along the famous Route 66. This highway crossing the desert was the scene of many a car break down and many, many flat tires. A rail line in the area had recently changed out a stretch of track and had left the old weathered timber ties along the track. Deserts are places where debris and waste sits around for a long time and is visible. The tires, old railroad timbers and other desert garbage was an eyesore.

The high school kids at the small town of Amboy got an idea of what to do with this desert flotsam. They headed out on excursion after excursion filling pickup trucks with old tires and collecting other wastes. They did this over a period of many months. I like to think they were providing a public service and imagine that they told there parents they were cleaning up the highway and their parents being pleased at the civic duty being displayed by the the next generation.

Just outside of the town of Amboy rises a black cinder cone. This cone along with nearby lava flows is one of the youngest volcanic centers in the United States. It is located along the boundary between the Sonora and Mojave tectonic blocks and is in an area with some very cool lava flows including some to the north that have some much iron and magnesium they ring like a bell when you try to knock a sample off of them.

The Amboy scholars gathered the tires, railroad ties and other garbage over many months and piled it all into the Amboy Crater. One early morning before dawn they lit the pile on fire. For at least a few hours word spread that the Amboy Crater was erupting. A great geology prank with no harm done to the science.

Rainier, Adams and Hood Rise Above the Gloom

Mount Rainier with Mount Adams to the left and Mount Hood to the right in the fuzzy distance

I was traveling and had this nice view of a few of the strato volcanoes rising above the cloud cover across western Washington and most of the Cascade Range. Rainier is the highest peak in Washington State at over 14,000 feet. Adams is the second highest at over 12,000 feet. Hood is the highest peak in Oregon at over 11,000 feet.  

Posting will pick up as field work permits.

Cascadia's Fault - by Jerry Thompson

I have been meaning for some time to do a write up on Jerry Thompson's Cascadia's Fault. The Cascadia Fault is the great subduction zone fault line that extends from off of Cape Mendicino on the northern California coast to well up the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada.

The challenge of reviewing this book is trying to do the book proper justice. I am not sure I can meet the same standard of good writing, good journalism and good science that Mr. Thompson did so well.

I am a geologist; I am way into tectonics; I even made what I would describe as a pilgrimage to see the ghost forest at the Copalis River that was part of the compelling body of evidence that built the case for a great quake on the coast of Washington HERE . As such, some of this book provided the simple pleasure of reading a very well written perspective on the familiar; however, Cascadia's Fault included ideas and stories and perspectives on the subject that were new to me.

Mr. Thompson states in the introduction of the book that "Scientists, civil engineers, and emergency planners know with certainty that it's bound to happen here (a huge quake along the coast), but they're having a devil of a time getting anyone to pay attention. This book I hope will change that". I hope this book will too.

The book tells the story of how geologists unraveled the clues about the great quake. It is a great story of how science gets done and how observations and ideas build on one another. I remember the debates about whether or not the Cascadia subduction zone was asiesmic or locked and dangerous and how that question was resolved. But the book adds many facets of the story I did not know and puts into context the early days of plate tectonics figuring out seismicity along subduction zone faults and how those early day ideas evolved how we think about the Cascadia fault. The book reads like a very good mystery novel building the clues one on another, but without the typical overblown hype that often passes as science writing. And there are tid bits of information that were fun to read about. Like Brian Atwater missing the ghost forest at the Copalis River on his first trip there. One on my favorite's was a discussion about turbidite deposits in sediment cores sampled along the Pacific Northwest coast in the late 1960s. Turbidites are essentially underwater landslide deposits and the sampling had found the same number of tubidite deposits at every site. A student assistant on the project suggested "Hey, maybe it could be earthquakes!" This brilliant idea was initially dismissed as too unbelievable, but clearly the idea did not go away and turned out to be true.

If there is hype or drama in the book it comes in the matter of fact descriptions of past disasters such as the tsunami that rolled into Port Alberni on the west coast of Vancouver Island or the chaos of a tsunami evacuation from Long Beach, Washington or the stories told by First Nations peoples along the coast that were not paid the heed they deserved. I have read these First Nation accounts of the 1700 event before and have seen fire pits covered with tsunami deposits. The stories are compelling and one has to wonder if our history in the northwest may have turned out a bit different if shortly before European arrival to the area the quake had not happened.

I very much appreciated, the book's treatment of earthquake prediction - a straight forward assessment that ultimately backs the idea that preparation is of utmost importance. And it was great to read about the work that went into creating the remarkable tsunami models that have saved thousands of lives and should be utilized for not just local planning but regional planning.

Much of the geology work on Cascadia's Fault is mud and sand exposed in drill cores and in pits. Papers are written in scientific journals or technical reports for building designs or geology chapters in land use or permit plans. Oregon State University geologist Chris Goldfinger is quoted in the book many times but sums up my own feeling about Cascadia's Fault the last time I was out on Washington State's outer ocean coast. Dr. Goldfinger said "It's a little hard to go to the beach and just hang out there and enjoy it." Gary Rogers at the Geological Survey of Canada states that "Sumatra is Cascadia."

In his years of covering this story, Mr. Thompson has gained an insight into Cascadia's Fault that is well worth taking the time to read. This book tells a compelling scientific story of discovery. But the book goes beyond the science and presents the case for society preparing for an event we are at this point are ill prepared for. Mr. Thompson's Cascadia's Fault takes the subject from the occasional quotes from geologists and presents a compelling case for regional and national planning that this pending event requires.

The people of Port Alberni know what to expect. They did not wait for expensive studies funded by the federal government to draw lines of hazard on the map for their planning. Mr. Thompson hopes that people will start to pay attention and began to prepare. He has done his part. This book should be required reading for every emergency planner, every land use planner and every politician in our region. And we should insist as a society that we are prepared for this event like no other our nations' have experienced.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Poison Oak In Western Washington

Warning sign in Seattle's Seward Park

A while back I was on a geology field trip looking at the Crescent Formation on the Olympic Peninsula. We made a stop at Lake Crescent. While scrambling up a slope of rock rock fragments to reach a cliff face I was surprised to see a patch of poison oak. I was thinking we were practically in the rain forest being on the Olympic Peninsula. Until that time I did not know poison oak was present in western Washington. I managed not to get a rash from that encounter and then saw the warning sign after I came back down the slope.

Poison oak is not common in western Washington but is present at a few droughty hot spots in western Washington. Our dry summers allow for it to thrive particularly on south facing rock slopes or areas that get hotter in the summer than other parts of western Washington. Besides Lake Crescent, I have seen patches on the south facing slope above Commencement Bay north of Tacoma and at the southern tips of both the Bolton Peninsula and the Toandos Peninsula on the northern part of Hood Canal. The southern tip of the Toandos is called Oak Head and I have not seen Oak trees there, but have seen plenty of thick poison oak patches.

The biggest poison oak patches I have seen are in the clear cuts near Brinnon on the west side of Hood Canal. After thrashing through some rough woody brush for several minutes I realized I was not in my usual brushy environment - I had been smashing through a thicket of poison oak. The Brinnon area has very dry and warm summer weather, and in areas of thin soil over bedrock or glacial till, poison oak thrives.       

Sunday, July 3, 2011

George Pickett's Peaceful Time in Washington Before Pickett's Charge

July 3rd is the anniversary of a former Bellingham, Washington resident's claim to fame, He lived in this home in what is the oldest part of Bellingham on the bluff overlooking the early settlement on the shore of Bellingham Bay. 

Pickett's House, 910 Bancroft Street

George Pickett was assigned by the U.S. Army to Bellingham to maintain the peace between First Nations peoples that had been living in the area for several millennium and the new American arrivals. In the mid 1850s some fighting took place at various locations in the State, but in the Bellingham area all was peaceful and Pickett never had any fights with the local tribes.  But a neighbor dispute over a pig eating potatoes nearly got Pickett into a battle with British forces in 1859. 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 and the said pig dispute between a British citizen and an American citizen led to Pickett leading a force of American soldiers to San Juan Island to counter a similar move by the British. Fortunately discipline and common sense prevailed and Pickett avoided battle.

Pickett got more fight than he ever wanted four years later at Gettysburg where on July 3, 1863 he commanded a full division of Confederate troops that was ordered to charge the Union lines. Pickett's charge has been described as the high water mark of the South during the Civil War. The charge reached the Union lines but was turned back with huge loss of life. The charge was one of General Lee's greatest mistakes. It was reported that when Lee asked Pickett to rally his division in case of a counter attack by Union forces, Pickett said, "General Lee, I have no division". 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mount Rainier Ice/Rock Fall

A huge ice/rock fall was captured on video this week at Mount Rainier. It even made David Petley's Landslide Blog. 

mountrainierclimbing has some great images as well. It should cause one to think a little bit before venturing out across the Nisqually Glacier where the slide slid down. How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard! (A favorite line from the movie Gallipoli.) Might not be fast enough.