Tuesday, July 31, 2012

God's Chess Board

I do check the blog stats occasionally. Had a bit on an anomaly yesterday - over 2,000 page views on a post I did about a year ago landscape-checkers-in-washington-state. A site called cracked.com linked to my post under the title 17-images-you-wont-believe-arent-photoshopped-part-10. Number 14 was my post they called God's Chess Board although they used a different image that is not as sharp as the one I had come across on the USGS site.

While the checkerboard pattern is unusual, the other pictures on cracked.com are pretty amazing and worth checking out.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Distal Lummi Formation Turbidites and Skipping Stones

The Lummi Formation is named for Lummi Island where there are excellent exposures on the cliffs and along the shore of the south, mountainous half of the island and at the very northern tip of the island. The formation also forms the cliff knob on the north end of Cypress Island and is exposed along the southeast shore of Orcas Island and north shore of Blakely Island as well as Obstruction,Vendovi, Eliza, Trump, Peapod, Jack, Fidalgo Sinclair Islands and a few small rock islands in between.

A significant portion of the Lummi Formation consists of distal turbidite that has been metamorphosed. Turbidites are sediments that have been deposited on the sea floor via density currents resulting from under water landslides. The sediment creates high density fluid in the water and flows down and out across the slope of the ocean floor. The sequence of events starts with sediment piling up on the shallow sea floor near the coast from rivers and streams. The loose saturated sediment then collapses as an under water landslide. As the density current propagates across the deep ocean floor, the heavy sediment is deposited first and then the sediment fines upward. If the site of deposition is at just the right spot a sequence of gravel fining up to fine silt will be deposited, but more often only part of the range of sediment is deposited in a given spot. Sites far from the landslide will be dominantly fine grained silts and clays. Sites that are closer may be dominated by gravel and sand. Repeated slides will take place as sediment gets piled up again just off shore of streams. The slides might be correlated with repeated earthquakes along the coast that will readily trigger under water slides, but the slides can take place without quakes as well.

On the southeast shore of Orcas Island I had a chance to assess some of the Lummi Formation turbidite with alternating layers of metamorphosed siltstone and sandstone. The metamorphic fabric at the site was generally parallel to the original bedding and overall had formed a nice dip slope down to the shore.

Lummi Formation and measuring strike and dip of turbidite beds
Metamorphosed fine sandstone with thin beds of silt stone

The distal thin bedded sandstone layers eroding onto the beach created a shingle like beach of flat pebbles. The beach was covered with fantastic skipping stones.

A grab sampling of skipping stones

I skipped a few stones towards Cypress Island and Lummi Island
Fog bank and Cypress Island

Cliffs on Lummi Island with Mountain Baker a bit hidden in clouds on right.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Release the River: Notes on the Elwha

Last week I visited Lake Aldwell on the Olympic Peninsula. Only the lake is gone.

The former Lake Aldwell

No, Washington State is not having a drought like other parts of the United States. Lake Aldwell is no more because the Elwha Dam has been removed.

Former Lake Aldwell

The Elwha River has been set free. First the Elwha Dam has been taken out and the Glines Canyon Dam upstream is being taken down very rapidly.

Former site of the Elwha Dam

This YouTube is an advertisement for boots, but I like the version of the dam removal project and maybe I'll give the work boots a try.

Elwha dams and a rough boundary of the watershed that has been opened for salmon
The removal of the dams opens up the entire Elwha River watershed for salmon. Estimates are that the salmon population on the river will increase to 400,000 fish from the current 3,000. The river extends deep into pristine habitat with the majority of the newly available habitat being with Olympic National Park. timothy Egan has a write opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/biological-boomerang. The Elwha Dam removals remind me of some personal history. Back in 2001 the Whatcom County Council had voted on sending a letter supporting the position of not removing dams on the lower Snake River. The Council letter included the line, and I am not kidding, “It is entirely possible that the dams’ net effect on salmon survival is positive”. I was on the Council at the time. Those were the glory days of my elected public service. I voted against sending the letter and kind made a big deal out of the letter. Turns out that line about dams having a net positive effect on salmon was lifted directly from a paper being presented at the time to those that were receptive to the idea that salmon were doing just fine. Besides the line that dams were good for salmon, the paper included “Removal of the dam on the Elwha River has not resulted in any return of salmon to that river”. I wrote an editorial in which I wrote "Mr. ***** (personally I think Mr. **** has suffered enough) is right, salmon have not returned to the Elwha River. Earth to Mr. ****: The dam is still there". A few political foes and friends felt I should have been more conflict adverse. Perhaps so, but I did like the line and the letter had politcal consequences that were favorable from my view. Personal history aside the movement of sediment from the upper part of the former Lake Aldwell was interesting to see. 
Elwha cutting into bank of former lake sediment
Exposed stumps exposed by river washing out sediment
(not gravel on top of stumps)
Stump being exposed along bank of newly freed river
Old growth cedar stump exposed on side of cut bank.
Shrinkage cracks within silts
The shrinkage cracks were interesting in that I measured one as being at least 4 feet deep.
A bright future for Elwha salmon
View up the Elwha into the heart of the Olympic Range

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Field Work: Forest to Industrial

Yesterday's field trips were a bit of an extreme range of environments. Forest to industrial.

A particular pleasant forest

One of my favorite views - downtown Seattle from the West Seattle Bridge

No pics of the industrial job site due to work discretion. But a journey through Seattle's industrial/port area is always impressive. The forest of cranes and giant ships and massive transportation infrastructure is a world apart.

When crossing the Duamish, I thought of a recent post on The View From the Canoe canoepost.blogspot-clearing-of-mind.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Eden Valley Balds

"Islands in the sky" is a term applied to the isolated habitats along the mountain top ridges of the Basin and Range of most of Nevada with some adjoining portions of other states. In Washington State there is a similar "island in the sky" habitats on the scattered balds at isolated locations separated by miles of forest land versus the miles of sage and salt brush in the Basin and Range. 

Bald area on ridge above Eden Valley

Eden Valley is a valley tucked between ridges on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula west of Port Angeles. I recently ventured into Eden Valley to access a project site. On a sunny day it was very nice and Eden-like. I had a view of one the Eden Valley Balds along the ridge top on the northwest side of the valley as I headed up the valley. These balds provide unique habitat far different than the vast majority of the more typical forested western Washington landscape. Balds are fairly common on the San Juan Islands (balds-praise-for-favorite-washington). But elsewhere such as the Olympic Peninsula balds are more scattered and isolated. In that regard they are rarer and the habitat more critical.

These isolated open areas provide habitat to very specific plants and animals. But unlike the island in the sky areas of Nevada, balds in western Washington are a bit ephemeral. Over time the bald pictured above may be covered by evergreen trees. But the thin soils combined with the location on a ridge allow for the site to be a bit dried out. An occasional, every hundred years or so, a lightning strike may have kept this ridge top tree free. If one looks closely, some of the scattered trees on the ridge are twice as tall as most of the other trees. The tall trees are the survivors of past fires or other disturbances.

These balds are actively being studied as they provide habitat for several rare plant and animal species such as checkerspot butterflies. How to manage these areas is a challenge given the lack of tolerance for wild fires in a commercial forest area or in an area with scattered rural homes. In addition to fire suppression, invasive non native plants that do do perform the same habitat functions can also invade these open areas.

Washington State Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Department of Natural Resources as well as non government organizations have been evaluating different approaches to managing these areas. To some extent these areas are attractive for preservation as the harshness of the environment that causes the balds is not conducive to growing valuable trees. 

Another bald on the Olympic Peninsula

My own ventures took me through a mix of timber stands and I enjoyed a snack or red huckleberries within a clear cut before pushing though a stand of 20 year old Douglas fir. The ridge top, however, as can be seen above had tree free areas. The ridge was cliffy and underlain by siltstone and conglomerate bedrock. A review of aerial photographs showed that it burned in the 1980s. This burn area is one of the ephemeral balds on the Olympic Peninsula.

Traversing across the open slopes I had great bedrock exposures - rare treat in this area. I also had some very tasty strawberries. With this year being a bit on the damp side, there is a low risk of fire in this location; however, I noted lots of dry woody material and drought tolerant plants including madrone trees as I neared the ridge crest.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ride on the Kennewick and Memories of My Home Town

I have been a bit of a road warrior and have been out in the field this week. Some nice ventures but I'll stick with something short and simple for now.

I had my first ride on the Kennewick, the new ferry that is now running between Keystone on Whidbey Island and Port Townsend on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. As with all the boats in the Washington State Ferry fleet there are pictures associated with the name of the boat scattered about on the walls of the ship.

I went to 8th through 12th grade in Kennewick. Lisa is also from Kennewick and a couple of pictures were therefore close to home so to speak.

Asparagus field at Vancouver and 19th, Kennewick

Asparagus field, Vancouver and 19th, Kennewick

The above is personally fun as it is essentially across the street from Lisa's old home. The pictures sure make asparagus harvest look like fun. But as can be seen it involves lots of bending over. I am not sure it is done by kids as much as it once was. Some of my school mates harvested aspargus in the early morning before school. Asparagus fields were formerly located near where I use to live and Barbara Fouts taught me where asparagus grew wild in the canyon behind our home. That was the limit of my asparagus work.

Pasco-Kennewick Bridge

I did not know that the Old Bridge as we called it was originally called the Yellowstone Trail Bridge. It was named for a trail between Spokane and Walla Walla. A couple of cool things about the bridge. It was built without tax dollars in 1921-1922 and was the first link across the Columbia in Washington State alone. Tolls collected paid off the bridge by 1931. This bridge was a right-of-passage for young drivers: it was very narrow and you had better be good at maintaining a straight drive line when crossing. The bridge was replaced in 1978 by a much wider span. For a about ten years the old bridge remained as there was an effort by a few folks to save it for historic reasons, but those efforts failed and the steel was removed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bad landslide event in eastern BC

The video is very fascinating and a very close call for the news crew as well as resident that lost her home. But that said, the reason the news crew was at the site was an earlier traggic slide.

The landslide/debris flow was on the east side of Kootenay Lake. The lake is in a deep trench like valley with huge mountains rising above the lake shore. The fatalities (assumed at this point in time) were at home sites on what appears to be a elevated glacial terrace well above the stream where the debris flow descended. However, the volume of sediment appeared to have filled the ravine the creek was located in and came up over part of the terrace where homes were located. Difficult to know looking at Google Earth images, but this event may have been the kind with a potential recurrence interval in excess of what geologist often consider.
I have not often done geo hazard work in topography this extreme, but when I do I will mention the difficulty of predicting mountain scale events - the fact is very high steep mountains pose a risk. 

Everett, Pullman and San Francisco

I've been doing a fair bit of work in Everett over the past month. At one site last week it felt a bit like San Francisco with a bank of fog hovering along the ridge line of downtown and me being in the sun. I have spent a fair bit of time in the San Francisco area and hence the summer fog bank and sun in an urban setting triggered a memory. A number of years ago while returning from Idaho, we stopped for pizza in Pullman. While eating the pizza at a table on the sidewalk, a little girl exclaimed "This is just like San Francisco". Initially it seemed funny, but then we noted we were on a steep hill slope in an urban setting and we were eating pizza - not really all that different from SF's North Beach in the eyes of someone that was 3 years old. I had the same feeling with the sun, fog and breeze last week in Everett.
Everett Avenue Everett looking west at the fog on an otherwise sunny day

Monday, July 16, 2012

Basalt Injections Near Brewster

The Waterville Plateau area in central Washington is full of geologic highlights. I have posted on few: moment-in-deep-time-back-to-back, giant-ripples, field-of-erratics, washington-states-other-mounds, glacial-erratics-near-grand-coulee and mini-badland-southeast-of-bridgeport. There are plenty of other sites associated with the Columbia River Basalts, the continental ice margin and the Missoula Floods. 

On a recent trip I stopped along the Big Bend (one of several) east of Brewster on the Columbia River to admire the glacial terraces on the opposite side of the river.

Terraces along lower Okanogan River and Columbia River

The terraces developed along the ice margins of the Okanogan ice lob approximately 13,000 years ago. The level terraces are excellent apple orchard sites if water can be delivered to the terrace. The Columbia at this point opens up into a rather broad valley compared to narrow canyon reaches both up stream and down stream. The valley is filled with water backed up from Wells Dam downstream.

As nice as the view across the river is at this location, there is a spectacular road cut on the opposite side of the road.

The outcrop is mostly Cretaceous to Jurassic granodiorite that has been partially very sheared from faulting with numerous injections of basalt magma. The granodiorite is referred to as the Summit-Frazer Complex is a southern extension of the Okanogan Block - a fairly coherent band of grantic rocks that extends well to the north into British Columbia. This is one of the southernmost exposures of this accreted terrane that was added to the North American margin. Basalt dikes cutting through granitic rocks is not unusual, but in this case the dikes have ends with the injections frozen in place.

Thin sliver of basalt within highly sheared granitic rock

Another thin sliver of basalt within shear zone

Close up of basaltic injection

Unsheared granodiortite country rock

Mini columnar jointing along the basalt dike chill margin

I really do not know much about these rocks. The granitic county rock is much older - on the order of 120 million years. The shearing and basalt injections may be associated with extension in the area in the Eocene roughly 45 million years ago. Complex rocks with a well exposed location.

Location map. A very wide pull out is located along the river adjacent to the outcrop.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Are Being Watched

My plotting out the route of the Press Expedition through the Olympic Mountains reminded me of an article from Peirce County. I recently traversed to the wilds of rural Pierce County east of Tacoma and Fort Lewis. This part of our landscape is a mix of small towns, suburban cities and rather heavily developed rural areas. Pierce County has begun a program using aerial photographs to identify unpermitted buildings HERE. This sort of program should bring out some interesting philosophy and political alignments. The program has identified at least 17 unpermitted homes, and they haven't even begun looking at east county area.

Frequent high resolution aerial photographs are now a common tool for planners. If I can spot fractures in a logging road using aerial photographs (deep-seated-landslide-in-upper-trout-creek), spotting unpermitted buildings using a GIS overlay should be pretty easy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Olympian Expedition

The Olympic Mountains presented an odd problem. A mix of very thick forest, steep slopes and the fact that the mountains did not present a barrier to be crossed left the interior of the range as terra incognita all the way into the time Washington became a state. The mountain range is not long and was easily circumvented by simply sailing around them or traveling via well established trails and then later river boats and roads along the Chehalis River south of the range.

The result was that all the way into the 1880s, despite towns and cities growing up within view of the range, the interior of the range was unknown. With coastal Indians decimated by disease and also the great quake and tsunami of 1700 as well as the cultural upheaval brought about by the influx of Europeans and Americans any knowledge of the interior of the range, if any once existed, was lost.

As Seattle grew into a large city, residences began to speculate about what was in the interior of a range that was located a mere 25 miles from the city. Speculation ran to great mineral wealth, unknown species, monsters, a great lost tribe and civilization living within an idyllic valley. In the Fall of 1889 the Press Expedition began their trek to penetrate through the range from the Elwha River in the north and out via the Quinalt River at the southwest end of the range.

The expedition did not have satellite and aerial images like we do, but I plotted out the expedition route.

Press Expedition route

The expedition began with rather remarkable optimistic view of how travel through this landscape would proceed. First, they began the trip in early December assuming that it would be a mild winter. Unfortunately the winter proved to be very cold and their location on the north facing Olympic slopes put them in a bad spot. When western Washington is cold it is typically due to cold air flowing out of the Fraser River valley from the interior of British Columbia. This produces a northeast to southwest flow of air aimed directly at the Olympic Range. As the cold air flows across the Strait of Juan de Fuca it picks up moisture and then as it begins to rise over the Olympics the air cools further dumping copious amounts of snow on the lower slopes. This weather pattern continued throughout the winter greatly slowing the expedition progress.

The second optimistic idea was that the expedition would be able to travel well up the Elwha Rive via boat. After building a raft the party struggled with portage after portage until the gave up the idea.

Once deep in the range, the party knew that at some point they would have to leave the Elwha and cross over into the Quinalt River. The big question was where to do it. The image below shows the unfortunate route they picked.
The difficult detour

As can be seen, the party headed up a tributary, but their path west was blocked by glacier clad jagged mountain ridges. They followed one drainage by ascending a ridge line and traversing through deep early spring snow to the top of the drainage divide. The descended the ridge and found themselves back on the Elwha River as the upper reaches of the river curved around to the west. However, see low spot on the ridge to the west the party crossed over the ridge through the snow and on to the Quinalt River.

James Christie, Charles Barnes, John Sims, John Crumback, Christopher Hayes and Harris Runnalls were the first to pass through these mountains. They answered some of the speculations about the mountains. I make about 20 trips over to the Olympic Peninsula every year for work, but I have yet to enter the interior of the range - it is still terra incognita for me.

A good read Across the Olympic Mountains The Press Expedition, 1889-90 by Robert Wood provided a fair bit of the information in this post.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lake Whatcom Forest Reserve Park: On Base Forest Acres

As posted previously HERE, the State Board of Natural Resources approved an interchange of State Trust Lands in the Lake Whatcom watershed. The trust land now looks like this:

Blocked up Trust Lands in Lake Whatcom watershed

The light green on the map are the County Forest Board lands and the pink are the Common School, Scientific School, Capital Buildings and Agricultural School Trust lands. The goal of the exchange was to consolidate or block up the County Forest Board lands into contiguous land and the other trust lands as contiguous lands.

One issue that has received some discussion was How much timber land would be removed from the timber land base? This issue was raised at the Board meeting and it is being raised by timber industry reps and by those opposed to a forest reserve park in the watershed. The map below is of help in understanding the amount of land that may be impacted by reconveyance and establishment of a forest reserve park.

Timber management constraints
Reconveyance area outlined in red

The red outlined areas indicate the area that will be reconveyed to the County for park purposes. Within the park boundaries, dark green, pink, orange and purple areas can not be harvested. The yellow and brown areas are potentially inaccessible due to constraints on building roads across unstable slopes (This access issue requires site specific ground truthing). The light green areas can be logged. However, even some of the light green areas may be for all practical purposes out of potential harvest simply because of the cost of road construction to access these areas (a few of these areas may be potentially harvested via helicopter, but based on DNR analysis very unlikely).

A glance at the map shows that only about 20% of the land on the east side of the lake park area is within areas that can be harvested. And even within those areas that can be, access via logging truck is very problematic.  The proposed park area on the west side of the lake is approximately 50% "on base" for harvest. Some, but not all, of these on base areas are accessible with minimal road building. 

Based on the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan as well as my own on the ground assessment of some of the areas, I estimate that amount of timber acreage the reconveyance will remove from commercial timber land acreage to be approximately 2,200 acres. I am sure quibble and arguing over exact numbers could be done. My purpose here is to attempt to bring some clarity to the acreage issue. And it should be noted that some limited timber management activity is likley on portions of the County Forest Resrve Park once a full management plan is developed.  

A bit of historic perspective on the process thus far is HERE

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

One More Step Towards Lake Whatcom Reconveyance

Jared Paben at the Bellingham Herald covered the Washington State Board of Natural Resources (BNR)approval of the trusts exchanges in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

I get quoted mostly because I called Jared to let him know how the vote went and Jared knew that this is an issue I have been working on for a really long time. Yeah, I am very happy about this. My experience with BNR votes has led me to expect delay BNR Punts. But after a very clear presentation by DNR staff with no caveats or alarms, the Board voted 5-0 to approve an exchange between the various state trust lands within the Lake Whatcom watershed.

While, perhaps not pleased that the County will be seeking to reconvey 8,900 acres from Department of Natural Resources (DNR) management to County management as a forest reserve park, the BNR through approval of the exchange ensured that the lands that will still be DNR managed will be the easiest to log lands and that the County park land will be in the areas of the watershed that would present much greater difficulty to log and areas where logging poses the greater risk of causing sediment loading problems for the lake.

The Board did here testimony from those opposed to the parks. The opposition was primarily backed by forest industry folks with a seasoning of various political groups using the name Freedom and Heartland. I little of the testimony is a bit off on the facts. You can hear the testimony HERE. The testimony starts at 35:00. My bit is at 64:25.

Previous posts: whatcom-county-council-moves-forward and lake-whatcom-reconveyance

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fresh Glacial Striatations

Glacial striations are always a pleasure to see. They are a reminder of the past. I came across an excellent fresh exposure where even the finest scratches in the bedrock were readily apparent. The site was along a shoreline. Periodic high waves have been removing the glacial drift that is covering the glacial striated bedrock exposing very unweathered striatations etched into the metamorphosed basalt.