Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Safe Travels and Thanksgiving Talking Points

My traditional Thanksgiving song for all you travelling.

Wonk Blog provides some great back ground for political discussions with your relatives on health care a-guide-to-surviving-obamacare-debates-at-thanksgiving and foreign affairs if-you-dont-like-negotiating-with-iran-what-youre-really-saying-is-you-want-to-go-to-war. As far as global warming and ocean acidification your on your own.

Mount Baker Glacial Ice Loss

Don Easterbook is worked up by a recent Bellingham Herald article by John Stark on a presentation to the local City Club monthly talk by Michelle Koppes letter-to-weeditors-some-cold-hard-truth-about-our-local-glaciers.html.

I have little interest this time in whack-a-mole with Easterbrook's graphs (see below), but Easterbrook takes issue with a statement Koppes made about our local Mount Baker glaciers,  "Koppes claims that "glaciers on Mt. Baker…..have lost 20 percent of their volume since 1990."  This one is mind-boggling! Keeping in mind that glaciers thicken rapidly upvalley from their terminus, the total amount of ice loss since 1990 can’t be more than a few percent. Other glaciers show the same relationship. How any competent glaciologist could come to such a conclusion is hard to imagine."

Koppes was referencing an ongoing study program that has been taking place on North Cascade Range glaciers including three on Mount Baker over the past for 30 years. Measurements indicate that indeed the loss in ice volume on the three Mount Baker glaciers since 1990 is 15 to 20 percent http://issuu.com/mspelto/docs/mount_baker_glaciers or for the journal article http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hyp.9453/abstract.

As for competent glaciologists reaching such "hard to imagine conclusions", I would suggest making measurements works pretty well.

It has been fortunate for Washington State to have Marui Pelto working on our North Cascades glaciers over the past 30 years. His latest yearly summary  http://glacierchange.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/north-cascade-glacier-climate-project-2013-field-report/.

I've posted on Don Easterbrook before


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Notes on General Sheridan: Missionary Ridge and Yakama War

Gettysburg was in the news this past week as it was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. A few days after the famous Lincoln speech a very important Union victory took place in Tennessee that was pivotal in speeding up the end of the Civil War. On November 25, 1863 Union forces took Missionary Ridge (Battle_of_Missionary_Ridge) near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This battle gave control of Tennessee to the Union and provided the key supply route for General Sherman's March across the South in 1864.

A couple of former Washington Territory residences were major players in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Ulysses S Grant and Philip Sheridan. Sheridan and his men were instrumental in the battle. They were assigned to take some Confederate gun pits on the valley below the ridge as a means to distract the opposing Confederate army from the main assault by General Sherman. However, once the pits were taken the Union forces were subject to fire from the ridge above. A combination of poor communication and wanting to find protection led Sheridan as well as other field commanders to advance up the ridge. The Confederate forces had built their trenches on the ridge crest instead of what is termed the military ridge line. Hence, the curve of the slope provided significant cover for advancing Union forces who then took the ridge and the route was on. 

Grant's time in Washington was rather sad. He was quarter master at Vancouver in the early 1850s and it was during that time he gained a reputation for drinking which continued at his next station. He ultimately resigned from the military only to be reinstated after the start of the Civil War.

Sheridan's first war experience was in Washington Territory. He fought in two engagements with the Yakama (tribal spelling). First near present day Toppenish and later at the Cascades on the Columbia at present day Bonneville Dam.

I've been reading Sheridan's Memoirs with attention to his brief time in Washington State and Oregon. He described his first military action, "On the second day out I struck a small body of Indians with my detachment of dragoons, but was unable to do them any particular injury beyond getting possession of a large quantity of their winter food, which their hurried departure compelled them to abandon. This food consisted principally of dried salmon-pulverized and packed in sacks made of grass-dried huckleberries, and dried camas; the latter a bulbous root about the size of a small onion, which, when roasted and ground, is made into bread by the Indians and has a taste somewhat like cooked chestnuts."

During his trip toward Washington Territory, Sheridan made an early environmental observation in relation to environmental damage and the consequences to the Pit River Indians in northern California. "In prosperity they mainly subsisted on fish, or game killed with the bow and arrow. When these sources failed they lived on grasshoppers, and at this season the grasshopper was their principal food. In former years salmon were very abundant in the streams of the Sacramento Valley, and every fall they took great quantities of these fish and dried them for winter use, but alluvial mining had of late years defiled the water of the different streams and driven the fish out. On this account the usual supply of salmon was very limited."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Red Mountain AVA Vineyard Expansion

Red Mountain viewed from the south

Red Mountain from within the AVA and one of the earlier vineyards

Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a hot (both commercially and climatically) vineyard area east of Benton City. The hot summer weather, windiness, south facing aspect and a mix of ice-age flood soils mantled with windblown silts and volcanic ash produce grapes that are much desired and acclaimed by wine makers and drinkers.

The first small vineyard was put in during the 1970s. A few more were added in the 1980s and early 1990s. By 1996 Red Mountain was gaining a reputation for excellent wine grapes. The extent of vineyard plantings in 1996 prior to the AVA designation is shown in this Google Earth image with the future AVA approximately outlined.

The Red Mountain AVA was designated in 2001 as a means to distinguish it from the broader Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley. Since that time there have been a variety of sites that have since carved out distinct AVAs of various sizes and peculiarities of climate and soils.

Since 1996, shown above, and since the designation of the Red Mountain AVA, the extent of vineyards has expanded considerably.


To the west (left in image above) of Red Mountain AVA is the Yakima River which flows from west to east and then makes a sharp turn to the north where it flows along and below the west of the AVA. Benton City is within the bend. Prior to the vineyard plantings, Red Mountain was mostly scrub steppe land that had been heavily grazed and had a fair covering of cheat grass, an invasive poor nutrition grass which takes on a red hue in late May after it dries out.

The water to irrigate the vineyards has been for the most part via wells. But a big expansion of vineyards is coming. The Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) is working on a $20 million dollar project to irrigate 1,700 acres within and adjacent to the AVA (KIDRM_Proposed_Irrigation_System_Map111212.pdf). The water will be from the Yakima River via a pump station under construction at the southwest end of the AVA. Most of the wells will be replaced by the pump system.

 KID obtained the water through a complex formula of reduced water usage as formerly irrigated ground in the District was converted to less water intensive uses, conservation and a bit of legal action that was settled with agreements with Washington State Department of Ecology as well as the Yakima Nation.

The costs of the project were fronted by a State of Washington Program for water in the Columbia Basin, but KID will pay the costs back via fees and payments from water irrigators that use the system. In addition KID currently owns many of the tracts of land that will be served by the water and is holding an auction to sell many of those parcels on Saturday, November 23 via auction. The auction will be a big test to see if this scheme is going to pay both for the KID and for vineyards on Red Mountain. It also a chance for would be wine grape growers to get in on the hot Red Mountain AVA.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seattle Coal Imports, Cement and Carbon Tax

The production of cement is a major source of CO2 into the atmosphere. Various estimates put concrete production as responsible for a bit more than 5% of all CO2 emissions.  While driving over the high concrete span over the Duwamish River in Seattle I got a glimpse of Seattle's single biggest CO2 source, Ash Grove's Seattle cement plant.

Cement plant from the West Seattle Bridge

Cement is inherently a big releaser of CO2. The chemistry is simple CaCO3 (calcite) + heat --> CaO (lime) + CO2. Hard to get around that CO2 source for what has been a basic building material for a very long time. I should add that there are some significant nuances in that other elements are then added to make say Portland cement such that the final product CO2 emission will vary depending on the specific concrete product.

As noted above, my view of this CO2 source was provided by a fair bit of concrete ifrastucture. In addition to the chemical reaction, turning limestone (calcite) into lime and CO2 requires a lot of heat. And hence, cement production often utilizes coal in the production of heat for the reaction. The tops of a couple of a coal piles can be seen at the cement plant in the image above and in the this areal view of the Ash Cement site.

Ash Cement site on Seattle's Duwamish River
Coal for kiln heat is on the left portion of site next to river

The primary limestone and coal source for the cement production is form Texada Island located between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. The limestone is mined on Texada and coal is mined from an underground high BTU coal deposit on Vancouver Island not far from Texada Island.

Close up of Texada Island shipping terminal

All in all a fairly efficient operation. Ash Concrete has a position statement regarding greenhouse gases and regulatory mechanism HERE. While Ash (as of 2009) is not convinced anthropogenic CO2 will have a significant impact on climate change that will harm humans (perhaps nuance versus flat out denial), they take a position that a carbon tax would be preferable to a cap and trade scheme approach. It is an interesting read to get an industrial perspective with more than just a fossil fuel burning component.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Curved Rock Piles on the Olympic Peninsula North Coast

West of Twin Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula's north shore are a series of curved land forms extending out from the shore within the tidal zone.   

North shore of Olympic Peninsula west of Twin Rivers
The road is State Highway 112

Last week I had a chance to explore this coastal reach. I had a nice break in the weather to do it and just enough afternoon light and out going tide to get a reasonable look at this lonely stretch of coast. I should add a few notes here regarding the walk on this shore. It is not frequently visited by humans and is very treacherous walking - essentially long stretches of the equivalent of horizontal talus with a variety of slippery features from sea weed to mud covering the rocks.

The curved land forms consist primarily of boulders on a bedrock cut platform shoreline. The piles of boulders form the curved forms and the curves come in various sizes. The larger and more continuous, the more consistent the curve with smaller more chaotic piles of rocks being common as well including within the more prominent curved rock forms. It is perhaps easier to see the features in aerial views, but they can be fairly easy to discern on the ground (tide flat); however, the wide scale does not lend the features to being easily captured in pictures.

The rock piles form protected pools on the wave cut platform shore

Veneer of boulders and cobbles over bedrock platform

Large pool rimmed by curve of boulders
Pillar Point is in the far distance

Curving line of boulders

Curving line of boulders

The boulders in the curved lines are different than the bedrock on the platform and at the shoreline bluff. The boulders are harder sandstone and siltstone and occasional glacial erratics while most of the platform and bluff is claystone.

Lower bluff with tilted claystone

Weak bedrock claystone

Platform of muddy breccia landslide plain

This entire reach of coast is lined with very unstable deep-seated landslides associated with the very weak claystones. The source of the curved piles of rocks is the result of large landslides that have slid out onto and across the wave cut platform transporting harder more resistant rocks to the outer edge of the slide area. After the slides take place, the wave action erodes away the soft broken landslide debris leavng behind a lag of harder boulders around the perimeter of the slide area. At least that is how I am interpreting the features of curved piles of rocks. I have a chance to better test this idea at another site, but it will have to wait for another trip out there.

These rocks are Oligocene marine and non marine rocks and are fossil bearing.

Some clam fossils

There was something of great interest to the gulls in one of the pools

Back on the road pictured in the initial Google Earth image

The first time I drove this road was during a heavy rain storm at night. Even at night it was obvious this section of highway was on a landslide or a series of deep-seated landslides. It is a very slow section of road and requires frequent patching and monitoring. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bioturbation of Upper Soil in Eastern Washington Range Land

Whenever I visit a burned over area of eastern Washington range land I am impressed with the bioturbation as it shows up a bit better with the surface of the ground covered with blackened plant remains. Within days there are piles of freshly dug silts covering the landscape. A good reminder of how much soil turnover takes place in the upper soil horizon. These critters will do a very good job of disrupting carbon horizons and volcanic ash layers. 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Trip Out Ediz Hook, Port Angels

I previously posted a short note on sediment and the Elwha Dams removal elwha-sediment-and-shoreline. For shoreline sediment folks the dam removal is a very exciting opportunity. Sediment sinks behind dams have significant impacts to coastal shoreline processes all over the world. The net shoreline drift at the Elwha is decidedly to the east towards Port Angeles and Ediz Hook. 
Ediz Hook with Port Angeles
The Hook forms an amazing wide and protected harbor as it effectively blocks ocean waves and swells coming in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the west. I was out in Port Angeles this week and had a bit of early morning time to head out onto the Hook. A well worthwhile drive or run or bike ride. There is some good shoreline processes to observe, but plenty of other stuff as well including birds, a large feral cat population and up close look at a paper mill.
The initial part of a trip onto the Hook passes right through a paper mill.
Nippon Paper Industries USA

Bear in mind that seventy years ago the Strait of Juan de Fuca was lined with long range cannons to avoid a Japanese attack as a reminder of how fast change can happen.

While the big picture of Ediz Hook is shoreline drift and sediment from the Elwha, there are smaller scale shoreline processes. Just before the paper mill a brackish tidal inlet has just enough fetch to erode the unprotected east shore of the inlet.

The road out to the hook passes between the buildings and drive yards of the paper mill. Speed limit is 15 mph and there is a stop sign and speed bumps.

Paper rolls in a warehouse

A bit beyond the warehouse is a shoreline restoration site where treated wood and concrete were removed and the shoreline was lined with logs and new imported clean gravel. The idea was to improve habitat and to stop erosion towards the road. The harbor waters are large enough that erosion does take place on the inside of the Hook. And when big waves hit the outside of the Hook and over top the spit, the over wash can cause erosion as well if no sediment is transported over the rock break water lining the outer edge of the Hook. 

The project was completed about one and a half years ago so the vegetation is just getting established. The site is likely being monitored to see what works and what does not. I will say I like the bright yellow flowers blooming in mid November.

The north side of the Hook is where the high energy big waves work against the spit. With the loss of sediment from the Elwha this land form which was already rather thin has become susceptible to erosion. The morning I was there the water was calm and the tide was out.

It will be a long time before sediment from the Elwha River begins rebuilding the spit again. And even then, keeping such an ephemeral land form locked in place will likely require continued engineering and maintenance. And given the high energy environment, it will require big rocks.
New rocks for keeping up the harbor protection
The view across the harbor to Port Angeles with the Olympic Mountains behind

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Deer Doing Bonsai

With few predators, if any, deer in the San Juan Islands have increased in number such that they have a noticeable impact on the landscape. Homo sapiens are not the only environmental influence in the anthropocene. The deer on Blakely Island, like deer elsewhere in the San Juans and perhaps the suburbs, have taken up bonsai pruning. 

Western red cedar

Stunted Douglas fir

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Yakima River Changes Course

The views from the Hinge (View from the Hinge and picnic-at-hinge-in-horse-heaven-hills) also provide a view of the altering of the route of the Yakima River from the ice age floods. 

View of lower Yakima River valley and Benton City
The puff of steam on the horizon is the large nuclear power plant at Hanford

I liked this alignment of a turn right sign with the Yakima River below making a left turn.
 Prior to the ice age flood the Yakima turned right instead of left at this location.
Ice-age flood waters filled the former Yakima River valley to the right with sediment
After the flood waters exited the river followed a new coarse to the left instead of to the right

View of Badger Coulee, the former lower Yakima River valley 

DEM showing the turn in the river

Monday, November 11, 2013

Digging Holes for Geology and Engineering

Bob and I did a little subsurface investigation in Seattle for a foundation excavation. We had the advantage of a good project manager for the developer that noted that there was a good exposure of the subsurface within a deeper part of the foundation of the existing building on the site and came up with a scheme for excavating the foundation. Our job was to simply verify the soil types and develop the geometry of the excavation in a manner that would be safe for the workers and would not put the neighboring building and property at risk. 

The area is mapped as glacial till and I had seen enough of the local till in that neighborhood to suggest we could likely reach undisturbed very hard till with hand tools. Saved a bit of money and time as indeed we had success. Hard glacial till may be lousy for gardens and stormwater drainage, but it does have some geotechnical advantages.   

Bob measures and tests the hard unweathered glacial till in our first pit

The second pit found very hard till at less than 1.5 feet.

One last note: Happy Veteran's Day to Bob and all our veterans.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wading For Geology

Sometimes its a bit of a challenge to time shoreline bluff visits with the tides and other projects. Wednesday I had a breakfast talk to give and then headed to couple of shore projects on the Olympic Peninsula side of the Salish Sea. The second shore site was a little short on beach sediment.

The lack of beach material was the result of a couple factors. First, the high eroding bluffs at this shore reach are predominantly clays which are readily transported off. The lag of cobbles is not enough to build a beach. Secondly, a reach of low bank has been heavily armored with rock bulk heads for many years cutting off a significant sediment source. Low banks are often overlooked as beach sediment sources, but they do erode and do supply sediment. Indeed a low eroding shoreline bank will recede much faster than a high steep bluff simply because the volume of erosion to cause recession of the shore is so much less.

Combine a sediment starved shore reach and throw in the landslides with trees and brush there is nothing more to it - time to get wet.

All in all a good work out with the added resistance to walking and weight of wet pants and boots. And really not so bad this early in the fall as the water is still not too cold.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eureka Flat: a Coulee Formed by Wind?

Eureka Flat is an anomalous flat stretch of land across the southwest Palouse. This flat stretch appears to be related to wind blowing through Wallula Gap. 
Low spots along the Cascade Range are areas with significant wind movement and as such have been the hot spots for wind energy development new-landscapes-defined-by-wind. A low west of Ellensburg and the Columbia River valley through the Cascade Range have been the focus wind energy projects. The Horse Heaven Hills along the north side of the Columbia form a barrier that focuses the wind coming up the Columbia along the ridge tops and hence the summit Ridge of the Horse Heavens from south of Kennewick to Walla Walla is lined with wind turbines. 

There is a break in the Horse Heaven ridge at Wallula Gap and besides to Columbia River moving through the gap wind passes through the gap as well.

View from the upper slopes of Wallula Gap to the northeast
Just upstream of the gap the Walla Walla River joins the Columbia and a bit further up stream from there the Snake River flows into the Columbia. In the early fur trading period a trading post "fort" was built at the gap. The site operated as a fur trading post from the 1818 to 1857 by the North West Company and then the Hudson Bay Company. The fort was an important station in the early days of U.S. control of the territory and early accounts from that period focused on the wind. While the fort was strategically located for trade purposes, the wind made it rather uncomfortable. 
In those days there was more than just wind. The wind had lots of material to blow. Yearly flooding on the Columbia River left huge sand bars and piles of silts that would be exposed to the wind blowing through the gap. The flood sediments would be blown through the fort area to points northeast into the Palouse Hills. What was left behind were lag deposits of coarse sand and gravel.
The stronger winds blowing through the gap appears to have shaped the land to the northwest leaving what appears to be a long divot extending from Wallula Gap nearly to the Tucannon River through the southwest part of the Palouse Hills. A portion of this area is called Eureka Flats.
DEM of Eureka Flat

Aerial view of upper Eureka Flat (USGS)
Driving through this section of the southwest Palouse the sudden flatness of the area is an anomaly compared to the more rolling hills of the Palouse. The area appears to be a broad coulee, but it is not associated with any flood water path. It has been postulated that flood waters may have over topped the upper end of the Eureka Flat valley, but the upper end of the Eureka Flat valley is likely too high to have been over topped. So I am inclined to lean toward a wind explanation for this subtle landform.  
West edge of Eureka Flat on the way to Lower Monumental Dam

Concrete haul road on Eureka Flats