Monday, April 30, 2012

A Dressed Up Apple Tree and More Spring Flowers

I had some field work over the weekend. Spring this year is following a slow stretched out pattern with mostly cool weather still. After months of just sticks, mud and evergreens all the new leaf and blooms captures my attention. Soon the western Washington landscape will be a jungle like place. On one of my ventures, I noted that the native cherry trees were blooming. 

Cherry tree blooms amongst the red alder

Cherry blossoms

Across the pasture I observed an odd looking tree. As I like trees with character, I made a little detour to check it out.

A tree with character

Upon closer inspection, the tree was very thickly covered with moss and lichen
and was an old apple tree

A couple of other spring blooms:
Bleeding heart

Skunk cabbage

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Few Spring Flowers

Besides seeing may favorite Garry oak and the gnarly Douglas firs HERE (as well as few Juniperus maritima), I did note some spring flowers on Turtleback Mountain during my field work on Orcas Island. Identification of flowers is a bit of a stretch for me. In the past I noted the fawn lily as "upside down white flower" and the calypso orchid as "spotty small flower". A couple of years ago I was working on a project with some biologists in northeast Oregon. We spent three days in the field together and I set a goal of learning at least three plant identifications per day. Easy when you have able help at hand, but most of the time I am on my own and my ability to go through plant keys is a bit limited. What follows is my attempt at finding out the official names of a few flowers that I see every spring. I could go with the species name, but that may be a bit too much for this geologist to take in.

Fawn Lily

Fawn lily

Calypso orchid

Blue camas?

And the big leaf maple with green blooms and new green growth 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

We Are the 100%

I regularly read U.California economist Brad DeLong ( A while back Delong put up a post with this image:

The context of his post was that everyone benefits from a particular employment bill that was before Congress at the time and that opposition to the bill was not in the interest of the top 1% earners.

But beyond the context of the DeLong post, I like the inclusiveness of the statement in the image. We are all in this together. Over the past few years conversations regarding our shared economic troubles often drift to complaints about corporations. These conversations turn a bit awkward when I mention I am president of a corporation. I am sure that there are very few people that would view my small company as part of the economic trouble we have found ourselves in, but my point is language and rhetoric matter because we are all in this together.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tunnleing in Seattle

I received an email from the Washinton Department of Transportation regarding a talk on Seattle tunnels. The State is starting a big dig in Seattle to put a portion of Highway 99 below ground. This project will be a big change to the landscape of Seattle. It will not be the first big dig in Seattle.

There is of course the two tunnels that carry traffic on Interstate 90 through one of Seattle's drumlin hills. And all those north bound trains near Safeco Field, including coal trains pass though the heart of the city via tunnels. And then there are miles of less glamorous tunnels for water, sewage and other utilities. My underground work has been limited to a few ventures into exploration tunnels associated with ore mines.

Anyway what follows is WDOT anouncement:  

Milepost31 spring speaker series – Tunneling in Seattle

The WashingtonState Department of Transportation is hosting a monthly speaker series at Milepost31 in Pioneer Square to give visitorsmore insight into the massive SR99 Tunnel Project.

Please joinus May 3 for our next installment – Tunneling in Seattle. Take a virtualtour exploring tunnels built during the past century and learn how tunnelingtechnology has advanced.

6to 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 3
211 First Ave. S., Seattle
Admissionis free.

After thetalk, be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore the rest of the FirstThursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square. Milepost 31 is open until 8 p.m. on FirstThursdays.

Save the date for our next speaker series event on June 7, when we’ll show you howWSDOT’s custom-designed boring machine will build the SR 99 tunnelbeneath downtown.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gnarly Firs and a Favorite Oak

I had a misty-moisty day earlier this week on Orcas Island. Between field work sites I ran up Turtleback Mountain. The moss was brilliant green on the balds (bare areas with very thin soil over bed rock) and the grass green on the open prairie meadows. I've posted images of Douglas firs showing different growth habits, but these two on the edge of of the same bald were remarkably different in appearance.

The first fir has developed a shrub like aspect due to having its new growth constantly trimmed by deer. No wolves or cougars or packs of wild dogs on Orcas or very little human hunting if allowed at all to keep the deer in check and this low bush growth habit is a common feature on the island. Approximately 100 feet away was an old leaning heavy set fir likely dating from a time when the clearing was much larger and before other firs began to encroach. Both trees tell a story of changes to the ecosystem. The cropped tree testifies to a grazing population with no predators and the second tells a story of when fire was routinely used to maintain openings and grazing on Orcas.

After the two firs, I stopped by a favorite Garry Oak with Crow Valley below. This oak is also a tree from a remnant ecosystem of managed landscapes by First Nations peoples that had lived on Orcas for thousands of years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Notes on Tsunami Debris and the Washington Coast

NASA put up an image and write up of tracking probable tsunami debris paths from the Tohoku Tsunami.
Keep in mind that this is not the first time that tsunami material from Japan has traveled across the Pacific to the coast of Washington. The flotsam of tsunamis, huge storms and damaged boats and simply garbage has traveled across the Pacific Ocean to our coast for thousands of years and has left some interesting legacies. 
For many years glass floats used with Japaneses fishing nets adorned many Washington and Oregon coastal homes as greatly prized beach comber finds. But try to picture the arrival of debris if you were living on the Washington coast say 500 years ago. A striking indicator of this was encountered at archaeological excavations on the outer coast where First Nations peoples were utilizing metal fishing hooks and other decidedly non local implements prior to European contact.

My favorite story of debris was the arrival of a Japaneses boat that washed up on what is now the northern Washington coast in 1834 after drifting across the entire Pacific. Three of the survivors of that wreck were initially enslaved by the Makah, but were then released to the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Vancouver (now Vancouver, Washington). This event has led to an often repeated story of a young Ranald MacDonald meeting the three Japanese and this meeting being the inspiration for MacDonald having himself cast-a-way on purpose on the Japanese coast prior to the opening of Japan. However, MacDonald's meeting with the Japaneses cast-a-ways is not accurate and has been described as a story that “settled like sludge into the historical record”. That said, MacDonald is credited for his role in the opening of Japan; a monument at his grave in Toroda, Washington near the U.S.-Canadian border in the highlands of north central Washington has a matching monument in Nagasaki, Japan.

Hudson Bay Company Chief Factor John McLoughlin was interested in the Japanese cast-a-ways as potentially helpful for trade relations with Japan. One of the cast-a-ways ultimately aided England in establishing trade relations with Japan. (More Here)  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

County Summits of Washington State

A peak not climbed - Goose Egg Hill, Hanford area
I came across John Roper's discussion of all the highest peaks (mountains, hills and lumps) in each County of Washington State Read it and go out and climb your county's highest point if you can and maybe even try bagging all the county high points around the state. And wow your friends with trivia. Such as What county has the lowest highest point in the entire western United States? Which state has the greatest range of county high points?
In addition to the list of county high points, John has a very fun write up of bagging peaks in the Palouse Highlights are the photo of Aron making the crux move on Watermellon Hill and bagging the highest point in FranklinCounty.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 2012 Swift Creek Landslide Visit and Swift Creek the Movie

A surge of mud was reported at Swift Creek last week after a heavy spring rain Thursday. I joined Western Washington University geologists Scott Linneman, Doug Clark and Chris Suczek to check it out.
Our first stop was at the Goodwin Road bridge over Swift Creek. 

This reach of Swift Creek is agrading due to the huge sediment load from the landslide. The very milky stream is from finely ground rock from the landslide. This light colored clay sized material in suspension is full of asbestos fibers. Hence, maintaining the bridge has become a problem. The asbestos is natural, but legally becomes a hazard once handled. The asbestos laws did not anticipate anything like Swift Creek.

Our next stop was at a concrete weir that that was constructed near the outlet from the mountain front through which the creek flows through. 

The weir was built it monitor stream flow levels and also to monitor turbidity. The log in the picture has a laser that measures the height of the water and a turbidity meter is located within the stream. While the stream is very cloudy with clay to very fine sand, we noted that golf ball sized cobbles were bouncing through the weir during our visit.

From the weir we headed up to the end of the end of the gravel road and started our walk up the cobble and boulder lined creek towards the toe of the landslide. The cobbles and boulders in this stream will strain any petrologist or mineralogist. I have made this walk several times and it hurts my brain to think about not only all the mineralogy I have forgotten, but stuff I have never seen as well. The cobbles contain a diverse mix from the melanged slices of faulted deep crustal rocks that are part of this big bedrock failure, strange ancient soil horizon mineralogy that formed over the deeply weathered ultramafite rocks, various cobbles and boulders derived from the overlying Huntingdon Formation that is collapsing onto the slide, and various glacial erratics all jumbled together.

One of the first cobbles I observed is one that is familiar, a dark greenish to black ultramafite cobble with an orange weathered rind. This nearly identical unit of ultramafite underlies the steep slopes of the inner gorge of the next drainage to the south on Sumas Mounatin. It is a great example of just because a rock is hard does not mean that it will not disintegrate when exposed on the surface to weather.
After rolling and bouncing down the stream channel this cobble of hard rock has sat on the surface for a couple of years. I gave this rock a bit of a kick with my foot.

The cobble easily broke. Other boulders of the same rock type that rolled and bounced down the stream as coherent boulders can be torn apart with bare hands after only a year or two of being exposed to wetting and drying and freeze and thaw. A close look at the rock shows it shot full of veins of a white mineral. This is a classic serpentinized ultramafite only in this case the serpentine veins have been partially altered to a clay that readily breaks the rock apart.

While I have some familiarity with the above unit, I am not so sure about a fair bit of the other rock types out of the ultramafite. This rocks get a bit weird and includes white garnet and blue talc along with some very unusual magmatic differentiation. 

The ultramafite bedrock that is the unit causing the big Swift Creek landslide is Jurassic in age (145 to 200 million years). The ultramfic rock is overlain by a conglomerate unit of the Huntingdon Formation, an approximately 40 million year old sedimentary unit deposited directly on top of deeply weathered ultramafite at the Swift Creek site.

Outcrop of Huntingdon Formation adjacent to the very milky Swift Creek

We arrived at the toe of the landslide and I took the picture below from a location very nearly the same as the location as one in October 2011 (included for comparison).

Swift Creek slide, April 2012
One challenge of viewing this image is the stream of water flowing down the middle of the slide.
The stream is so turbid is blends into the adjoining soil.

Toe of Swift Creek Slide, October 2011 with no stream on slide surface

The shape of the toe was not hugely different between the April 2012 and October 2011 visits; however, a bit of the toe has gone missing - washed out and down the creek to the low lands below. A more noticeable difference was the material deposited across the forest floor to the south of the main creek channel. This deposit is a new deposit since my October 2011 visit and while there was one stream channel at that time there are currently multiple channels.

After our visit to the toe of the landslide, we headed up to the overlook. The trail up is very steep. Scott pointed out the trail down the cliffy forest including ropes to a platform site used to shoot ground based LiDAR imagery of the slide.
Trail to LiDAR platform
Scott Linneman looks out over the toe of the slide at remote camera site

This remote camera site takes pictures of the slide and has helped greatly in understanding this beast of a slide. See the movie HERE.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Percs of Being in a University Town

Took a break from report writing Friday to take advantage of living in university town. Kim and I headed up to campus to hear a talk on landslides in North Carolina. The speaker was Jennifer Bauer, President of the Association of Engineering Geologists. She made some interesting points about geology and engineering geology before speaking about the landslide mapping project in North Carolina. She noted the importance of engineering geology in everyday life. Made one proud to be an engineering geologist.

Her talk on landslide mapping in North Carolina discussed applied geology using remote sensing tools and strategic field work in the development of hazard maps over a very broad and rugged landscape. She had some great examples of picking out landslides from aerial images and less than ideal LiDAR and then field truthing. Some great images similar to some research I have been dabbling in so it was helpful to see the approach taken. Inspired me to work on my own little non business related landslide project.

Afterwards, Kim and I headed back to our report writing, but I met up with Jennifer and a few other local geologists after work. We compared notes on vegetation and field work. I was interested in how various counties and communities in North Carolina responded to the land slide work, and much like Washington Sate there was a range of reaction from progressive and regressive reactions. Jennifer has recently started a consulting business in Asheville, North Carolina called Appalachian Landslide Consultants. Like lots of geologists that develop an interest in a particular area, she is making the transition to turn passion into a way to pay the bills.

All in all a good geology day. While up at Western I found out Swift Creek on Sumas Mountain ( and whatcom-countys-desert) had sent a surge of mud down the slope and made plans to tag along to visit the slide.

More posts to come on Swift Creek as well as the recently nailed down fault zones in northwest Washington. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Field of Erratics

Glacial erratics and moraines Columbia River valley

The east side of the Cascades can be very green depending on the time of year. In the spring after the cold weather ends and before the soil dries out one could even think it looks like my tribal home land.

I took the above picture while driving up the east side of the Columbia River valley north of Wenatchee on the way up to the northern Waterville Plateau. The route crossed over a series of terminal moraines from the tongue of ice that had extended down this stretch of the Columbia River valley from the continental Okanogan glacial ice lobe. The moraines are rubble left around the outer edge of the glacial ice.

It appears the vast majority of these erratics are Columbia River Basalt Group likely plucked off the uplands to the north and northeast and then left behind by the melting ice. The underlying bedrock in this portion of the valley is much older gneiss.
Several ice margin terraces along the valley sides with multiple erratic boulders

Friday, April 20, 2012

Twin Sisters Range

Twin Sisters Range with summit of Mount Baker to the left

Lisa recently completed a landscape painting of the Twin Sisters range Her painting was based on a view from a bit of a different angle than the above picture. The above view is from one of my favorite pull overs on Highway 9 south of Acme, Washington. Some clever engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation thought highly of the view and provided an extra wide gravel shoulder so one can stop and admire the view.

The Twin Sisters are a set of jagged peaks rising up above the lower mountains of the Northwest Cascades. The range is a huge block of mantle some how exhumed up to the surface perhaps as a wedge of the mantle between a subducting tectonic plate and the over riding tectonic plate. Its a glassy green rock called dunite that develops an orange weather rind.

I did a bit of a write up on dunite dunite-decorative-heat-resistant-and-CO2-sequestration.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bear Story on Airwaves

Part of my field work involves driving. I have to drive to see various project sites. As I work throughout Washington State, sometimes I spend a fair chunk of a field day in the car. My radio listening includes NPR stations, CBC (Canadian) and Seattle's KIRO. KIRO, a for profit radio station, formerly used have news talk format but switched to all sports. The sports talk gets flat out silly at times - a good match my mind set after a few hours in the car.

Yesterday there was a discussion about how bear would fare in a fight cage fight with a top fighter. This apparently was a follow up on a discussion the day before. But on this day they got a hold of a Seattle Zoo worker that works with bears. The bear expert made it clear that the bear would win every time. "But, What if it was a little bear? A bear that would be considered a wimp by all the other bears?" The Seattle Zoo guy told a story about a sun bear captured in Indonesia. The bear was only 100 pounds and was captured in a 55-gallon drum. The bear tore its way out of the drum and escaped.

Perfect story while slogging up Highway 99 between Seattle and Everett. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Anticline Wave - Saddle Mountain

The Saddle Mountains are part of a continuous west-east ridge across a fair bit of eastern Washington. This range is one of several asymmetric anticlinal folds that angle across the eastern Washington landscape. They take on the appearance of a series of waves propagating across the landscape.

East-west ridges with gentle south slopes (back of the wave) and steep north slopes (wave front)
(Map -USGS)

Saddle Mountain (USGS)

The road up Crab Creek with Saddle Mountain on the right

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Stream With No Name

In early March 2007 I received a call from a distressed property/home owner below a nearly completed timber harvest on the west side of Sumas Mountain. He told me he had water flowing across his property where there never had been water previously. Given that Sumas Mountain is not a long drive, I agreed without much enthusiasm to head out and take a look.

When I arrived I found water coursing down the slope of his property clearly on a route where water had not previously flowed. I headed up slope to find the source. This was not rocket science. Essentially the construction of the logging road switching back up the mountain side had captured a stream in the road side ditch and rerouted it out of its usual flow path into a different watershed - a watershed that had not previously had any surface water flow.  

Stream capture at capture point. Stream is intercepted by ditch.

I should note that the stream had already been diverted out of its usual channel approximately 500 feet up the slope from this location. Hence the reason for the lack of a defined channel in the picture. The reroute above this location led to a debris flow approximately one week after the above picture was taken. Alas no pictures of the debris flow as when I visited post debris flow I had failed to have charged my camera. A further note on this rerouted stream is that its flow is very flashy. It would flow very hard during heavy rain and then nearly go dry within a few days. This is due to the fact that the much of the harvest area is underlain by thin soils over low permeable bedrock. A factor that was not taken into account perhaps as much as it should have been. 

Once out of its watershed, the stream eventually flowed into a culvert and was discharged down slope below the road and then was picked up again by the road in a lower switchback ultimately being directed onto the distressed property owner's land.

View up the ditch just above the culvert that shunted the stream down slope again hundreds of feet off its original course and into an entirely different drainage area.

I took this picture looking straight up the slope above the culvert.
Note there is no indication of flowing water above the road

Discharge down the slope. From zero flow to needing a 2-foot culvert

Water flowing across forested slope of the property. Note the stream flowing around mature trees. (I had to brighten the photo as the forest canopy made the lighting difficult)

The above little tour took place in early March 2007. When the property owner asked me what I thought would happen on the slope pictured above, I predicted that the stream would cut a 10 to 20 foot deep ravine through his property unless the stream was put back where it belonged as the soil underlying the slope consisted of unconsolidated glacial sediments. Indeed, two years after this visit, the slope above had a ravine approximately 13 feet deep and several mature trees had fallen over. 

This particular forest practice had other drainage problems as well. A few weeks later these problems caused two debris flows. Neither were tragic as one debris flow stopped before reaching a home site, and the other became jammed within an inner gorge of a canyon leaving a debris dam for some future event to unravel. A third debris flow swept down the mountain side in January 2009 missing a home by approximately 100 feet and missing another by 200 feet before it buried a stream/wetland enhancement project. All three of these debris flows were the result of forest road drainage or diversion problems.

One would think that once the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was notified and the timber company became aware of this diverted creek, the problem would be readily resolved. Simply put the creek back where it belongs. The issue of the stream diversion has never been resolved. The diverted stream pictured above remains diverted into an area it never previously flowed. The DNR, the agency charged with administrating and enforcing the Forest Practice Act sent at least three staff to visit. In a letter issued by the DNR to the impacted property owner the DNR stated, "The DNR forest practices forester has recently inspected the site and all forest road drainages are being maintained in compliance with forest practice standards. That being said, the drainage situation on Mr. XXXXX's property is still unresolved. The department does not see any public resource or safety issue with the current situation. The drainage issue onto Mr. XXXX's property is a civil issue and should be resolved between landowners, not a government agency." 

The problem regarding this assessment of public safety issue was, as far as I known, no agency investigation of just where this new stream of water go beyond Mr. XXXXX's property and just what might it do. In January 2009 this unnamed creek made its presence known to down slope property owners. The rerouted creek took out a driveway and closed the only road to three homes causing thousands of dollars of damage with homeowners completing unexpected culvert replacements. There was a safety issue and there still is. 

The DNR letter included another line: "Any plan that is agreed on (between Mr. XXXXX and the timber company) should be reviewed by the DNR to insure that changes to the existing drainage on the forest roads comply with forest practices rules and provide adequate protection to public resources and safety."

Unfortunately this civil matter took two and a half years to resolve as the timber company argued that the stream had always been located on the property. No, I am not kidding. It took numerous reports by consultants, carefully presented LiDAR images of the drainage patterns, sitting through depositions at attorney offices, watching the timber company geologists spending hours trying to find evidence that there had been a stream previously on Mr. XXXX's property and coming within two days of a U.S. Federal District Court trial before an agreement was reached and the timber company and the damaged property owner came to terms. That is right, Mr. XXXXX went to federal court to have the problem addressed. I am not privy to the terms of the settlement.

And all over a stream that was so clearly diverted and for some reason remained so. It was an interesting exercise that I still do not understand. Hope I never will. 

If there were any light moments in this dark process it was that throughout the various reports by others and in depositions others used names for this stream as well as a couple of other stream routes associated with various properties in the vicinity. I refused to adopt the names that were being used, instead I delighted in calling the stream with no name Diverted Stream.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oyster Catchers, Kukutali Island

One of my earliest blog posts (bird-identification) included a picture of oyster catchers on an outcrop on the east shore of Marrowstone Island.

Oyster catchers at Liplip Point

Dave Wenning has a better picture at and a link to a great write up he did on exploring-kukutali, an island near Deception Pass. He had a remarkable tid bit on the island; back in the 1960s the island was being considered as a nuclear power plant site. Anyway a worthwhile read and a great idea for a Saturday trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aerials of the Lily Point Landslide

One last bit on Lily Point for now.

1961 aerial of Landslide at Lily Point

The earliest aerial I could readily get my hands on of the Lily Point slide is the above 1961 image. In that image there is clearly a large slide area with few trees on the slide scarp. By 1975 below, the slide appears about the same except for trees becoming established on part of the slide area.

1975 aerial of Lily Point landslide

1985 Lily Point landslide

By 1985 all but the western limb and the steep headwall scarp is tree covered. Also note that the upland above the landslide has had some clearing for roads in preparation for development. This development was one of several large development schemes for Point Roberts that began in the 1980s. Two things slowed this development scheme down: one lack of potable water and two concerns about the landslide. 

1995 aerial of slide at Lily Point

By 1995 the slide area had become even more tree covered with the exception of the lower eroding slope and the very steep headwall that was too steep for vegetation. The upland area was fully tree covered again as not much had been taking place for development. It was sometime during this period that Dames and Moore, a geotech company, did an investigation of the slide area that included drilling.

The Google Earth image of the slide from 1998 shows most of the slide is now tree covered nearly 40 years after the bare expanse of the slide area visible in the 1961 image.
However, I marked the outline of the existing slide area in this image in red.

2011 Google earth image of Lily Point slide

Point Roberts residences reported hearing a loud noise from Lily Point area and seeing dust rise up above the forest in 1999. The slide is still wooded, but comparison with the 1998 image shows that the slide area has greatly expanded.