Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hydrofracking: Small But Many Footprints

I came across this bit of policy spin effort by ExxonMobil (disclosure - I have some stock in the company). This cartoon graphic showing how small the hydrofracturing footprint is compared to other energy foot prints natural-gas/surface-footprint.

I have done some research on hydrofracturing in part for work and in part as a policy matter. A recent work project was a bit of loss leader - perhaps 20 hours of research to write a few paragraphs in a report regarding a potential resource development. But some interesting stuff and plenty of hype all around for and against.

But work aside the cartoon footprint by ExxonMobil makes unconventional gas with horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing appear very benign relative to other energy sources.

The footprint issue is only one aspect of the shale gas plays and coal bed gas plays, but a recent USGS report http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2013/1025/OFR2013_1025.pdf gives some perspective on the unconventional gas footprint.

Unconventional gas well permits in Pennsylvania 2004 -2010 (USGS, 2011)
The footprints might be small, but there are a lot of them - 9,600 Marcellus shale gas permits and get your head around this number - 49,500 non-Marcellus permits. This over just a seven year period.

Based on the number of wells and projecting from the USGS report, the footprint in Pennsylvania is on the order of 80,000 acres. But that does not count pipeline routes. A few footprint images from Pennsylvania via Google Earth:


And there are other impacts: roads from trucking, air from compressors, noise from drilling and compressors and the shear numbers of workers that surge into rural communities. The work does create a lot of wealth and a lot of energy. There is no doubt the impacts are both positive and negative. Its the impact of a lot of small but cumulative impacts.

Washington State? Not much in the way of promising shale oil or gas. Where I know there may be some, the units are rather disrupted and hence not very appealing. Our shales are not like the broad gently undulating and continuous shales in the big gas or oil areas. Where there might be some interest will be in coal bed methane as there are substantial coal beds in parts of Washington State. Some early exploration took place in Whatcom County approximately 10 years ago.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ledgewood Landslide Via the Coastal Hazard Specialist

Ian Miller, Coastal Hazard Specialist for Washington Sea Grant, has a nice write up on the Ledgewood Slide on Whidbey Island. The write up includes a discussion of his process for measuring the sediment that has been added to the beach - an important component to our beaches; without landslides lots of our beaches would disappear. The post also includes a video of the shore area.


This is important baseline work that more often than not does not happen leaving grunt geologists like me to guess.

I have yet to visit the slide since it made the news, but I did get a good look at it from the Port Townsend-Keystone Ferry via binoculars. The slide is in a very active slide area and is in an area with very active erosion due to the exposure of this reach to open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mystery Tunnel at Discovery Bay

Late last summer I was traversing the west shore of the Quimper Peninsula on the shore of Discovery Bay along a reach lined with bedrock. The bedrock is mapped as Quimper Sandstone and includes remarkable nodules that seem to be a feature of the sandstones in Jefferson County (see here).

Nodule in Quimper Sandstone

The sandstone also has fossils along this shore reach

Perhaps due to the fossils I was looking at the base of the bluff carefully and saw this unexpected feature that warranted closer inspection.

I have made numerous inquiries and have thus far come up empty as to why this tunnel is located here. I did not go in very far as I had no torch. So its one of those mysteries that will have to wait another day to explore. From a minerals perspective there really would not be any reason I can think of to bore a tunnel into this rock formation.
I was near this site yesterday, but logistics and other work prevented a side trip.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Field Prep

I have weekend field work and was doing some preparation research for my ventures with the idea of a little side trip to this area of odd features in the LiDAR imagery. I have done some work in this area in the past and would like to tie a few odds and ends from past field notes together and follow up on a few features I have come across in the area.

LiDAR (Jefferson County)

The site is in Jefferson County on the east side of Discovery Bay. The general landscape has been glaciated with glacial scour traces on the landscape from north to south. But the topography in the central portion of the LiDAR hints at some other types of features.  The geologic map indicates the presence of bedrock and fault contacts between bedrock units in vicinity.

(Schasse and Slaughter, 2005)

This part of the Schasse and Slaughter (2005) map directly incorporates the mapping of Gower (1980) including the areas mapped as landslides in bright yellow. Em are different units of siltstone, conglomerate and sandstone and Qgt is glacial till. There are some volcanic units as well including some possible adakite adakite-and-tamanowas-rock. The LiDAR lineations that are at an angle to the glacial striations might be the result of resistant layers of rock and how they are oriented, or Maybe something else? 

I am familiar with the coastal area on the map. My own interpretation of the landslide mapped areas is that they are not landslides. There are a couple of minor smaller shallow slides on a portion of the slope but nowhere near the extent indicated on the map. Gower (1980) provides no explanation and Schasse and Slaughter (2005) provide no details specific to this area and in other areas of the same map perhaps overly used Qls. Gower's main interest as best I can tell was the bedrock and perhaps there was something he saw I did not. 

All the above said, the little bit described above is a bit of an example of the information gathering that takes place when this (me) grunt geologist heads out to do field work. I will also rely on past field projects in the vicinity as well as an older paper only map I have of the area (Hansen, 1976) and mapping done even more recently to the southwest by the USGS that includes a much greater detail of late glacial units and interpreting a number of landforms that appear in the LiDAR of that area and may be applicable here as well - part of my purpose for visit. Off to test as many explanations I can think of see what I can see.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Possible Fault on the Toandos

Back in November the Washington DNR Geology Division released their Image of the Month http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs121/1103464106731/archive/1111518145720.html

Trevor Contreras at Dabob Bay outcrop
 DNR November Image of the Month

The image is of an off set of some sediments estimated to be approximately 100,000 years old. In geologic terms that is recent and more importantly suggests the potential of localized faulting and earthquakes in the area of the image. There has been a lot of looking for faulting in this area as geophysical surveys have suggested some sort of fault structure in the vicinity running up along Hood Canal and into the Dabob Bay area. This may be the first definitive exposure of faulting along this feature. Based on LiDAR imagery this fault, if it is present, has not ruptured the surface. That doesn't mean it is not active, just means that the fault movement does not break through to the surface. 

Finding fault lines in western Washington has proven to be challenging. The repeated and recent glaciations have obliterated surface features that develop along fault segments. The geophysical surveys and the general lay of the land with a steep mountain range, the Olympics, and the low lands of Puget Sound suggest a major structure.

Finding off sets that may be related to a suggested fault is exciting. The find was made while geologist Trevor Contreras with the DNR and a team were mapping the Seabeck Quadrangle. The location of the offsets and tilted sedimentary beds is on the Toandos Peninsula are indicated in a DNR post november-geology-image-of-the-month-dabob-bay-outcrop.
Map of location  

I have walked miles of the Toandos Peninsula. Typically my efforts have been related to slope stability and erosion. But I have kept a sharp eye out for fault off sets like the one shown. But darn if the location shown above is at a section of the Toandos I have not yet traversed. I was a bit relieved after seeing the map, as I initially was thinking "I must have missed it." That said, I did observe a potential off set that was poorly exposed and not very definitive to the southwest of the site. And there are some oddities in the topography of the area that could under a creative arm waving sort of way be explained by localized tectonic movement or fracturing.

I am looking forward to the DNR publishing the Seabeck Quadrangle Map. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Colbert's Take on Reinhart-Rogoff

Economic wonks have enjoyed the attention that Steven Colbert gave the Reinhart-Rogoff (R-R) HERE paper on GDP and debt. I think he hits the right points on mocking policy setters that so readily embraced a paper that was not a peer reviewed paper and that had almost immediately been criticized for other problems.

But the part that makes the show worth watching is his interview of the student, Thomas Hendron who was the lead author of the paper that demolished the GDP to Debt paper. The original R-R paper was published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. The point of the NBER working papers is much like publishing an abstract and giving a talk at a conference. It is a way to get an idea out there for discussion and sharing of ideas, but it is by no means peer reviewed. I would note that some years ago I watched a presentation of a geology abstract at a conference get demolished on the spot. I was the very next speaker and yes that gave me a bit of fear.

With working papers like R-R, it might take a bit more time to fully vet the idea. But in the mean time a lot of economic policy leaders performed an experiment on tens (hundreds?) of millions of people by severely cutting government spending. And here is the thing, there are plenty of published papers that had been peer reviewed that said the exact opposite thing.

Anyway here is the link to Colbert's take: http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/tue-april-23-2013-eric-schmidt?xrs=share_copy.

This affair is in a way a demostration of how science works when it interfaces with policy - kind of messy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thin Ice

I watched Thin Ice last night. It was available for a couple of nights via the internet for free and I was lucky enough to see a screening via the internet. Wish I had posted the link earlier. A trailer for the film can be seen and the movie can be ordered at the link: http://thiniceclimate.org/trailer/

Its worth watching if only for watching what doing climate science looks like. I also liked the bit on radiating altitude by the physics folks - a term that had leaked out of my head some time ago. The film also utilizes images from one of my favorite painters - Bruegel.

It was nice to watch after my posts regarding the incorrigible denialist Don Easterbrook the-don-easterbrook-problem, don-easterbrook-is-not-skeptic and easterbrooks-messed-up-graphs-corrected. One final note on our famous denialist. I did read his editorial in the Bellingham Herald. He never addressed the very specific factual statements by the Geology Department regarding his flawed graphs, and he simply repeated the same unsupported statements he has been saying for many years. Perhaps another angle on this at a later date.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Orcas Red Eye and a Wildlife First (for me)

I traveled the "Orcas Red Eye" this morning. This entails rolling out of bed at 4:10 and being on the road by 4:15. At 5:30 I joined the rest of the bleary headed workers on the ferry to Orcas Island at 5:30. I pulled my wool hat over my eyes and was oblivious to the world as the ferry engines took me to my destination. A nice deep one hour nap.

Some good geology work and chance to see some very good bedrock exposures. Also some wildlife interactions including a wildlife first for me.

My first site was bit cliffy and good to be be wide awake. But I enjoyed hearing this loon dive and resurface below me while I plotted and schemed routes down a cliffy slope for a proposed shoreline access trail.

The rhythmic diving and surfacing of the loon (he could hold his breath a long time) was disrupted by the honking of a pair of geese.

I visited three sections of shoreline on Orcas and a pair of geese flew into all three sites honking while I was there. A geese conspiracy? A pair of geese somehow wronged by me in the past coming to disrupt my quiet? Or am I misunderstanding them and they were happy to see me. Most likely they could care less about me and their noise had other purposes.

The tide was way out so I saw lots of starfish. The orange ones are easy to spot, so I always like seeing the purple ones.

But the exciting wildlife was not captured with pictures. While traversing through the forest, I flushed a turkey vulture off of dead deer. A bit unexpected, but the big first came later and made me yelp.

I was walking a rocky shore reach and a wildly chattering bird landed on my head. My hands shot up and I gave a yelp fully expecting a beak to start jabbing my head. Then another bird landed on my head! This very unexpected event ended very shortly with my two "attackers" flying off still chattering madly. Turns out they were having some sort of territorial dispute and my head was just a clever defensive maneuver spot. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Way More Than a Gust of Wind

Dana Hunter has been doing a series of posts on the Mount Saint Helens eruptions. Her latest is mind bending and a great fun read of awe and destruction http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/rosetta-stones/2013/04/18/the-cataclysm-all-of-the-trees-seemed-to-come-down-at-once/. The timber industry really needs to take action against volcanoes.

I "met" Dana via the geo blogosphere. She had kind comments regarding my early posts and I have very much enjoyed reading her posts as she has morphed into a geologist. And she is an amazing researcher constantly turning up fun stuff and writing geology with great enthusiasm.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gold Rush, Oysters and Pirates

Willipa Bay

Wide shallow tide flats combined with good water circulation and a native oyster population established Willipa Bay as a long standing business enterprise zone. Local First Nations people had been harvesting and trading oysters for a long period of time. The bay site was well situated for trade due to its location near the Columbia River.

The oyster business led to this area being one of the first areas where American settlers began business enterprises after what was to become Washington State was established as American territory. The very earliest days of the future Washington State being part of the United States coincided with the California Gold Rush. Money could be made supplying the miners and those that were profiting. This was during the brief pre Indian treaty days and the First Nations peoples were very much a part of the enterprise along with the new Americans. Oysters were gathered and loaded on ships that headed south to sell the oysters in San Francisco. (Apparently oyster harvests in San Francisco Bay rapidly were done in by a combination of over harvest and pollution) 

There were businesses rivalries, boats were stolen, boats sank and eventually the bay was over harvested. However, better governance and the introduction of larger non native oysters from Japan has led to the bay now being a major oyster center along with some specific inlets in the Salish Sea.

Oyster shell mound at Bay Center

Oyster boats at Bay Center

The mud of the upper tide zone also holds secrets to the great coastal earthquakes
Tough muddy work has taken place at this inlet to find tsunami deposits and drowned forests

A final note, I came across this cartoon oysterwar. It takes place in Chesapeake Bay, but Washington State has had its share of oyster piracy as well http://washingtonlandscape.blogspot.com/2010/03/big-news-out-of-quilcene.html.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Lesson on Climate From a Non Lesson on Economics

"If true, this is embarrassing and worse for R-R (Reinhart-Rogoff). But the really guilty parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they wanted to hear." - Paul Krugman.

In a way this sounds a bit familiar, but instead of climate its economics.

If your not familiar with Reinhart-Rogoff (nber.org/papers/w15639.pdf), I'll give a very short version.

R_Rcorrect (1)
Difference between R-R and Herndon, Ash and Pollin
Figure from Jared Bernstein

R-R wrote a paper on debt and gross domestic product ratios. One of the ratios was turned into a sound bite you may have even heard as a fact: If debt/GDP exceeds 90%, GDP will become negative (see above figure) or a derivative of that sound bite. Problem was the paper was met with a bit of controversy and debate amongst economists. This was in part because there were a number of circumstances that did not meet the results that R-R suggested. Another issue is that even though debt/GDP ratios might have a correlation, that correlation could well be that when an economy is in crisis government revenues decline and government costs increase - that is the debt is the result of a lower GDP.

Herndon, Ash and Pollin (umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/) were unable to replicate the R-R results so R-R shared their data (very commendable) and HAP found three areas of errors. One was an Excel spread sheet coding error, but there were two other errors that skewered the results.

But a broader policy issue is that even though the paper had not been well received or had the results confirmed, policy makers and pundits of a particular bent seized upon the paper to justify economic policy. An economic policy of austerity.

The federal austerity policy will have an impact on Washington State and that impact may be larger here than elsewhere due to the large military bases and military contracts as well as the Hanford Department of Energy cutbacks.

While climate science has been politicized, it has nothing on economics. Political tribes hear what they want to hear and gladly push forward as brilliant any study or paper that supports what they want to hear regardless of how poorly it is received amongst experts in the field. Sounds sort familiar post WA Senate Climate Fuss.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Field Work Variety

A variety of field work the last two days at scattered sites in western Washington.

Sampling glacial marine drift

Shoreline bluff assessment Whidbey Island
Redevelopment in Seattle
Stormwater dispersion

Landslide on a 12 degree slope

A unique landslide site and the Great Puget River
(This site deserves some future posts)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

San Juan Islands National Monument - Whatcom County Sector

If you want to have a view of Washington State's newest National Monument, a short drive down Chuckanut Drive (State Highway 11) south of Bellingham will provide a view of the extreme east bit of the San Juan Islands National Monument - Chuckanut Ruck in Chuckanut Bay.

Chuckanut Rock
Map of the San Juan Islands National Monument
The monumant only includes the BLM lands (yellow)

In the above photograph Eliza Island is the first island in the distance. A few off shore rocks very near Eliza are also part of the National Monument. Chukanut Rock, the rocks off Eliza, the very southern tip of Lummi Island and rocks off the west coast of Lummi Island make up the Whatcom County portion of the San Juan Islands National Monument. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Curiosity in Everett

I confess I was feeling some self-pride on a project last week. Before contracting out a back hoe or drill rig I took a crack at hand drilling to investigate soil conditions at depth. The basis of the approach was from previous work I had done in this particular part of Everett which suggested that the glacial till that is mapped as underlying the area was thin or might be missing and the unit below is a very well sorted sand that could readily been hand drilled. 

I started with a sharp shovel and very soon encountered very hard tan glacial till. But I had faith in my theory so I pounded and chipped at the till and 18 inches down broke through to a very well sorted sand (well sorted in geology jargon meaning uniform in size and poorly graded in geotech jargon meaning all the sand was the same size).

Once into the sand I started with a wide auger to 5 feet and then switched to a narrow auger with extension rods. Made 14 feet in two holes and got stopped by a rock at 9 feet in a third hole.

So self pride in my geology interpretation, saving my client some money and the satisfaction of hand drilling a few deep holes. Alternatively, it could be that I never really progressed much beyond enjoying playing in the sand box. But then I drilled a lot deeper than Curiosity.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Easterbrook's Messed Up Graphs Corrected

During his presentation to the Washington State Senate Committee Don Easterbrook put up a global cooling blizzard of what he termed as facts and graphs. His presentation triggered an editorial in the Bellingham Herald signed by every professor in the Western Washington Geology Department. I wrote up a bit of my own perspective the-don-easterbrook-problem and don-easterbrook-is-not-skeptic

The Geology Department editorial included this paragraph: 
In a specific example, Easterbrook referred to a graph of temperatures from an ice core of the Greenland ice sheet to claim that global temperatures were warmer than present over most of the last 10,000 years. First, this record is of temperature from a single spot on Earth, central Greenland (thus it is not a "global record"). Second, and perhaps more importantly, Easterbrook's definition of "present temperature" in the graph is based on the most recent data point in that record, which is actually 1855, more than 150 years ago when the world was still in the depths of the Little Ice Age, and well before any hint of human-caused climate change.
 The editorial did not come with the specific graph so here is the specific graph from the presentation:

Easterbrook graph presented to Washington State Senate

The image is not real clear as I got it via a screen shot off of a blurry TVW image of Easterbrook's Senate testimony. So I found essentially the same graph Easterbrook used in a 2010 post on a global warming skeptic blog.


The graphs are essentially identical except that the clear graph shows a data source (a source that does not agree with Easterbrook).

When Easterbrook presented the graph to the Senate Committee he specifically stated that the right edge of the graph was present temperature. This statement is wrong and the way the graph is presented is not correct. The base of the graph states "Years Before Present (2000 AD)". This is wrong. The GISP2 ice core temperature ends at 95 years before present, but present in this case is 1950, not 2000 (This is the way the original data was presented and 1950 is frequently set as a base year for temperature anomalies). The most recent GISP2 ice core temperature is 1855.

Perhaps an innocent mistake, but....  Turns out this issue was brought to Dr. Easterbrook's attention before easterbrooks-wrong. Easterbrook's response to the wrong date issue:
The contention that the ice core only reaches 1905 is a complete lie (not unusual for AGW people). The top of the core is accurately dated by annual dust layers at 1987. There has been no significant warming from 1987 to the present, so the top of the core is representative of the present day climate in Greenland.

OK, so Easterbrook got a little confused about the ice core dates, What's the big deal?

Note that the title of the slide is "Almost all of the past 10,000 years was warmer than the present". But he got the present day temperature wrong. I thought I might help him out with his graph so I marked up the screen shot of his Senate Committee hearing testimony.

By adding the actual present temperature it becomes clear that "Almost all of the past 10,000 years was warmer than the present" no longer makes sense. Present temperatures are the warmest in well over 2,000 years and, with a few exceptions, is warmer than most of the last 10,000 years.

Eastertbrook has used this graph to claim before multiple audiences and now the Washington State Senate that "virtually all of the past 10,000 years has been warmer than the present". This claim is completely wrong because it is based on his not understanding of ice core temperature data and his refusal to include present temperature data on his graph. And as noted by the Geology Department, the graph does not represent global temperature; it represents one location on the entire planet. Yes, the site might reflect some global temperature trends, but Greenland temperatures vary a bit more wildly than the global temperatures and no single location should be used to determine global climate trends. 

This is by no means the first time Easterbrook has managed to not reveal where present temperatures are on a graph relative to past temperature reconstruction graphs. Three years ago Don Easterbrook made a presentation where he used the following graph:

Easterbrook altered Global Warming Art graph

Turns out he had taken a graph from globalwarmingart.com and altered it a bit. Gareth Renowden noted the similarity his-figures-hides-the-incline,  easterbrook-defends-the-indefensible.

The original is below:

Easterbrook removed the notation from the original graph that showed that present temperature is warmer than the highest average of the reconstructed temperature histories.

This is why peer review is important. Messed up graphs like the ones shown above would be very unlikely to pass through the peer review process of any reputable journal. But I do have to wonder about motivations when present day temperatures are left off illustrative graphs because they are an inconvenient truth.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Northeast Becomes Southwest: King-Snohomish Border Lands

A bit of a silly note on directional confusion. We do a fair number of projects near and along the King County and Snohomish County boundary. Often we'll combine trips to reduce drive time and mileage between projects. The King-Snohomish County line runs between a number of suburban transitioning to urban cities: Edmonds, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell, Kenmore to a name a few, along with odd blocks of unincorporated areas.

The juxtaposition of two counties and the cities brings a collision of street numbering and street direction name confusion. Throw in steep drumlin hills that limit the ability of simple continuous street grid along with freeways cutting through the landscape acting as barriers and it can be a tricky area to navigate. And there is an added confusion if you forget the flipping of street name directions and number sequencing when crossing the county line.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Exploring Dirty Dirt

Part of my work involves contamination investigations. A different type of risk than the geology hazard assessment work I do. I have not posted much on the subject, but lots of geologists are employed in environmental contamination and cleanup work. Having an understanding of the underlying geology helps with understanding contamination fate and transport. It also helps in knowing the most efficient way to investigate a site. In the case below, I was fairly sure I might be able to pull off sampling to 10 feet or so, if needed, with hand tools - saves a bit of money for clients versus hiring out a backhoe or drill rig.  

Auger hole

Soil in auger from soil transition zone

I managed to auger two holes to the depth I needed to make a reasonable assessment of soil conditions. No big rocks or extremely compact soil blocked my efforts. I took a soil sample and performed a very complex field test. I placed some of the soil into a pan to see if any sheen would come off of the soil onto the water surface indicative of petroleum hydrocarbons. In this case I did get a sheen. I followed up by sending a sample to a chemistry lab for analysis.

Sheen test in action - panning for oil

Monday, April 8, 2013

Before the Tulips

The Skagit Flats are a broad alluvial plain where the Skagit River has washed sediments down from the North Cascade and Northwest Cascade Ranges out into the Puget lowland to create a nearly level, rich agricultural plain in northwest Washington. Skagit County. Near LaConner there are numerous fields planted in bulbs that bloom in April. One has to be aware that on an April weekend, one could be in a traffic jam as people come from miles around to look at the brilliant colored tulip fields during the tulip festival. If one is lucky there is the classic scene of bright red bands of tulips with the heavily snow covered cone of Mount baker rising 10,000 feet above the fields.

Last week I passed through the flower growing area on the way to a project. A dark wet day before the tulips have opened, but I had a nice view of brilliant yellow from a daffodil field in an otherwise brown and gray scene. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

An Alternative Ferry for Lummi Island

I had a slug of data base work. A bit dull, but not so dull that I can listen to the radio or anything that would distract my attention. So I linked onto a long play list of Scottish Gaelic music and cranked away at my task. But a video caught my attention when switching screens. The video reminded me of the long difficult Whatcom County struggles with their ferry to Lummi Island.

Washington State operates a number of ferries on the Salish Sea. But there are a few county run ferries as well. Whatcom County operates the Lummi Chief between Lummi Island and the mainland. Its a costly service that is heavily subsidized. For a time the County was considering a new boat to replace the current boat. This led to sometimes very impassioned public meetings with a very wide range of opinions on just what type of boat. To be honest, the whole thing greatly tried my patience. It was a difficult test for a public official. I found myself thinking it was regrettable that the County had ever gotten in the business of providing ferry service. There are lots of islands in the Salish Sea served by private boats. Alas, though too many people had moved to the island and commuted daily to simply end ferry service.

The above said, I think it would have been a bit of fun to suggest that Whatcom County purchase a ferry from Scotland to serve Lummi Island. It would satisfy those opposed to a big boat. It would greatly reduce dock costs. Probably wouldn't win any friends on Lummi Island, but it might make a great tourist attraction.

The first video gives an idea on how the unique boat works. The second video is a tourist promotion with lots of scenery besides the boat (I want to go, I want to go), but at 1:29 into the video demonstrates that the boat could handle the currents and waves in Hale Passage.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

San Juan Islands National Monument Map

President Obama created the San Juan National Monument a couple of weeks ago. The initial goal of a citizen group was to get the Bureau of Land Management lands in the islands designated a National Conservation Area (NCA). However, the NCA never was given a hearing in Congress update-on-san-juan-islands-nca. With strong local support in the San Juan Islands as well as throughout the state, President Obama acted by designating the BLM lands in the islands the San Juan National Monument. I suspect that the activists that pushed for this are feeling a bit like I did a few weeks ago about another park lake-whatcom-reconveyance-hallelujah.

The National Monument designation only applies to the yellow BLM lands

The monument includes an assortment of small rocks and islets. The biggest deals are Patos Island on the far north of the map and bits of land on the south end of Lopez. In the grand scheme, perhaps no real on the ground substantive change; however, the designation will provide some certainty that was previously missing. There was real fear that the Lopez properties might be surplussed and sold.

Note that the National Monument includes more than just the San Juan Islands and San Juan County. Islets and points in Skagit and Whatcom Counties are part of the designation.

The boundary line of the new monument may cause some confusion, but at the same time it may be a great marketing tool for tourism. The fact that the snippets of BLM land were designated says much about the natural and historic nature of these rocky islands. The large outer boundary may also be objectionable to those that opposed the monument. Opponents fear that the monument designation will interfere with commerce and development and private land use and no assurances could ever persuade them that is not so.

It will take some logistical effort to set foot on the actual National Monument. I suspect that most visitors to the San Juans will not set foot on monument land. A boat would be the most practical manner. An exception may be touring geologists - some of the Lopez Island monument land that is accessible is also located at some great geology sites

Regardless of the monument designation there is quite a mix of other public lands in the San Juans. The park land in the San Juans is nearly as complicated as the geology. The geology is a mélange and the same could be said for the park land. The map above indicates the US Fish and Wildlife lands - mostly impossible to see on the map includes very small islets and rocks, a National Park on the west side of San Juan Island associated American Camp and English Camp on San Juan Island dating to the joint British and American joint occupation of the islands in the 1850s through early 1870s, and State Lands - which include both Natural Conservation Areas (former trust land) and State Parks. There are some terrific small county parks as well (two of which I will post on one of these days). The San Juan Land Bank as well as the San Juan Preservation Trust separately and together have acquired numerous remarkable properties.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Don Easterbrook is not a Skeptic

Near the beginning of his testimony to the Washington State Senate committee, Don Easterbrook stated “CO2 cannot possibly cause global warming. The reason is because there is so little of it. It is a trace gas. If you double nothing, you still have nothing.”

Don Easterbrook is not a skeptic. He is operating with an alternative set of facts regarding CO2. He does say that water vapor is important for controlling heat. But he has rejected  a very basic atmospheric science fact that CO2 has long been recognized as a very important heat control. CO2's role as an absorber of infrared radiation is a basic lesson in Atmospheric Science 101. One of the very first things one learns in atmospheric science is the composition of the atmosphere and that even though CO2 is at a low concentration it plays a very important role in the global heat budget.

Given, his long history of studying glaciers, I had assumed this basic science would be something Don Easterbrook would be familiar with. Too be honest I am stunned.

Kiehl and Trenberth (1997) http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/1997 calculated that CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere absorbed approximately 40% the amount of energy that H2O in the atmosphere absorbed. The CO2 in our atmosphere,  so readily dismissed by Easterbrook, is responsible for 26% of the radiative forcing. Does he really not know this?

From Kiehl and Trenberth (1997)

Doug Ericksen, the State Senator that has been fooled by Easterbrook's credentials had this to say about Easterbrook: “As chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, my goal from day one of this session has been to operate in an open, transparent manner and allow multiple views to come forward, earlier in the session, the governor gave his side of the issue and now we’ll hear from an expert with a different viewpoint.”

My response:  1) Don Easterbrook is not an expert. 2) We are not dealing with sides on an issue. He came to the committee and presented information as though that information was fact. He has no understanding of the most fundamental fact regarding CO2 in the atmosphere. 

From Kiehl and Trenberth (1997)

The graph above shows some important factors. The blue line is the surface radiation and the red line is the radiation at the top of the atmosphere. H2O absorbs some radiation across a broad range of the radiant heat spectrum. It also blocks incoming solar radiation. But notice that CO2 blocks a fairly broad band within the higher radiant band. This is critical, because increasing CO2 will not cause a linear effect but a logarithmic effect. Other gases that effect very narrow band widths such as O3 (ozone) are much less important.

To be clear there is room for debate and interpretation on just how much infrared CO2 blocks; there are a number of variables that alter the radiant heat such as latitude, surface material, cloud cover, angle of radiant heat, dust. The reason I linked to the Kiehl and Trenberth (1997) paper is they also include an overview of previous efforts on atmospheric heat and energy budgets and do some comparison of their results. There is also room for debate on just what increasing CO2 by 50% or 100% will do to the heat budget and how said addition might alter other atmospheric heat factors.

This is exactly the issue that atmospheric scientists took some time to reach consensus on and there is still a fair bit of debate on just how the shifting heat and energy budget will play out. It is why presentations on global warming often show a range of predicted results. Within atmospheric science there is debate regarding how arctic warming and sea ice will and or has been impacting global atmospheric energy exchange and climate. Even here in the Pacific Northwest we have had what I would describe as a bit of a nasty blowup over snow pack.

Easterbrook's premise “CO2 cannot possibly cause global warming. The reason is because there is so little of it. It is a trace gas. If you double nothing, you still have nothing” is not skepticism, it is denial of fact.

A plot you will never seen from Don Easterbrook:

From Petit and others (1999) Nature1999.pdf

Take a good look at the top two plots showing CO2 and temperature for the Vostock Ice Core. Is there a relationship? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

High Plains Drifter

My fellow travel companion last week was taking pictures of jet contrails and pointing out that the best way to see the country we were in was from the fly over perspective. I was simply glad that the weather had greatly improved from the beginning of the week. Two days before arrival it was 9 degrees.
The above said we saw a glimpse of how the United States is heading towards surpassing Saudi Arabia for oil production.  

Big rig set up for directional drilling

The drilling and hydraulic fracturing can be viewed as a temporary high impact industrial development.

Older oil extraction well

Typical tanker truck traffic. Although the traffic was minimal compared to the Bakken. This area in a National Grasslands in Colorado has had oil and gas production for a long time, but with hydraulic fracturing advances will be getting a bit of resurgence.

The plains are vastly different from the highly variable landscapes of Washington State. But a little adjustment to what to look at or look for allows for plenty of interesting observations.

Throughout our trip I was fascinated by the snow patterns.