Sunday, August 31, 2014

One Offset in the Dabob Bay Fault Zone

Last year the Washington State Department of Natural Resources published the Geologic map of the the Seabeck and Pouslbo 7.5-minute Quadrangles, Kitsap and Jefferson Counties, Washington (Polenz and others 2013). At a personal level it has been great to have this map as it covers an area where I have done a fair number of projects. The map confirms a number of observations I have made, but also clarifies some features that were well beyond the scope of what I was specifically working on. The map also includes some big pictures interpretations that reflects the progressive deeper understanding of the Puget Sound basin and the glacial history of the area. The pamphlet provides detailed explanations to how specific units have been interpreted and notes there is still some debate regarding specifics. This map is one of a series of very good maps that the DNR has put out and given my experience in the area. 

Perhaps the most exciting part of this map is the designation of a fault zone cutting across the Toandos Peninsula on the west side of Hood Canal. This zone had been suspected for some time as some deformation had already been noted by previous workers in the area (Carson, 1975). 

Polenz and others (2013) noted a fault offset that Carson (1975) had noted on the southeast corner of the map shown below measuring the off set trend as northwest with a steep dip at 85 degrees to the southwest. I had made a similar observation a few years ago and have a couple of pictures of the feature.   

Portion of the Polenz (2013) map across the south central Toandos 

Small offsets along silt and sand units

Off set location

There is a bit of a change regarding slope stability north and south of this particular off set. Just to the north there are a series of deep-seated landslides associated with some lake sediments that are not present to the south of this off set location.

There are not a lot of definitive fault off set locations exposed within the younger glacial and interglacial sediments. Polenz (2013) found an even more definitive off set site to the northwest. A future post as I recently visited that site. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Coal and Drinking Water

Coal has been a bit of a topic in Washington State and Oregon as well with several coal export terminal schemes proposed. Coal has been portrayed as a toxic substance by some opponents to coal export terminals. But there is a lot of variability in coal toxicity and quality. Powder River coal, the primary coal that is being railroaded across Washington State is low in sulfur relative to most other coal, but is not particularly high in energy content. That low sulfur content makes it an attractive coal relative to more polluting coal with higher sulfur.

High quality anthracite coal is very carbon rich, has a very high energy content and burns very cleanly (excepting CO2 emissions). Very high quality anthracite is more typically used for steel production and for water filtration. Yes, you might be drinking water that passed through a sand filter full of anthracite coal.

Anthracite is almost glass-like and when crushed it makes a fine sand that combined with the carbon content makes an excellent filter media for purifying drinking water.

I was doing some source area work for a water district and got a tour of the treatment plant and had the fortune of getting to see the backwash cleaning of the anthracite and garnet sand filter media.

Backwashing of filter media

Periodically the water flow is reversed with a surge of water to break up the sand column and
knock out the trapped fine sediment.

The muddy water is then routed to a waste discharge out of the system. The backwash is timed to last long enough for the water to clarify. All that brown fine sediment coloring the water had been trapped by the anthracite coal. Good clean water thanks to coal!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boistfort Valley Mound - Random Land Form Curiosity

During a visit to the Boisfort Valley I noted this isolated small hill rising from the floor of the valley. I had no time to visit the hill, but noted it is the site of a cemetery. 
Small hill in the Boistfort Valley

Same Boisfort hill from the southwest

The Boistfort Valley is located in the east Willapa Hills. The Boisfort Valley is one of the earliest Euro/American settlement areas in Washington State with some of the earliest donation land claims as well as the oldest public school district in the state. The name Boistfort is old French meaning strong wood and was likely named by early Hudson Bay Company French fur employees that settled in the valley. The valley was along the route from Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia River to Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound. Topographic maps show it as Boistfort Prairie. Green forested hills rise up to the east and west. The valley was badly flooded in 2007 during heavy rains and hundreds of landslides on the steep forest lands above the valley. The South Fork of the Chehalis River flows from south to north through the valley. The valley had decidedly northern California feel about during  my visit - hot 90s plus temperatures, brown grass and large oaks on the valley floor.

Wells (1981) and Wells and Sawlan (2014) geology maps of the east Willapa Hills have the hill mapped as part of the younger alluvial material that covers the valley floor, but its elevated stature suggests it is an older erosional remnant. Perhaps too small of a scale to warrant a separate designation. Wells mapped a nearby similar height ridge as a basaltic intrusion and the lower slopes of the valley as McIntosh marine sediments. So possibly the hill is an older alluvium deposit remnant or some harder outcropping of bedrock rising slightly above the valley floor.

Even more intriguing is the Lewis County soil map. That map indicates the hill is underlain by Salkum silty clay loam, a soil derived from glacial drift. The glacial drift interpretation would be exciting (for glacial history folks) as it is well south of the interpretation of the farthest extent of the Puget ice lobes. There is a mound-like hill of somewhat slightly greater height north of Chehalis call Grand Mound that is mapped on geology maps as glacial drift of uncertain age. Perhaps the soil mappers were influenced by the mound topography at Grand Mound and based the interpretation off of that mound. But then again it is hard to figure how this little bump is glacier related given its location.

A land form worth some further investigation perhaps.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Douglas Maple and few other plants

When I am out in the field with plant folks I try to learn a new plant per day. A picture and writing the name helps set the plant in memory. Drawings would be even better. 

From a recent outing in Ross Lake National Recreation Area:

Acer glabrum (Douglas maple)

Adenocaulon bicolor (Pathfinder)

Goodyera pubesceus (Rattlesnake plantain). This is a native orchid.

Salix scouleriana (Scouler willow)

The last one has some uncertainty as I did the identification myself.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Notes from Ross Dam

Ross Dam is the uppermost and highest dam of the three Seattle Light dams on the Skagit River. It is the key dam for controlling flows and power production on the Skagit. Two additional dams are located down river.
Ross Dam from the south

Note the high steep cliff on the far side of the dam and the fact that the slope from the vantage of where the picture was taken are steep as well. At one time there was a scheme to have an even higher dam matching those higher slopes. A higher dam would have backed water up into Canada. An agreement was reached to do so, but there are no current schemes to build a higher dam.

All three dams are located within a gorge between the broader upper Skagit valley and the broader lower Skagit valley. Ross is at an ideal location for a dam at a deep gorge entrance with a broad valley upstream allowing for a large volume reservoir. The Skagit gorge is thought to have formed during the continental glacial period when glacial ice to the north blocked north flowing rivers and diverted river outlets to the south and over a mountain divide where the Skagit gorge is now located (see Riedel, Haugerud and Clague, 2007). The gorge is incised down through the Skagit Gneiss, a band of high pressure and temperature metamorphic rocks within the core of the North Cascades.

Waffle face of the dam

The potential for a higher dam is also reflected in the waffle concrete face of the dam. The idea was that the waffle face would allow excellent adherence between the existing structure and a higher taller dam structure added on to the dam.

View of gorge below dam
The concrete structures on the left and right are the spillways. They are set up to allow the spilled water to collide and dissipate energy if water is spilled from the dam versus passing through the powerhouse which is located on the upper left of this view.

Boathouse and docks on upstream side of dam

Boat house and dock stairs descending into the water
The floating dock sliding up and down piers according to water levels and the permanent steep stairs  has been great improvement from the previous ladder descent to the dock and boat house.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mirror Lake, Bellingham Drinking Water and Phosphorus

Stopped by Mirror lake while on journey elsewhere. Mirror Lake is where water diverted from Middle Fork Nooksack River is discharged before it flows via Anderson Creek to Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for Bellingham. The lake was in fully muddy mode from the diverted water that is derived from glacial melt water. 

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake turbidity

Aerial view of diversion and pipe (blue line) (USGS)

The City of Bellingham diverts water with a diversion dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River. The Middle Fork headwaters flow out of the Deming Glacier on the southwest flank of Mount Baker - a 10,000-foot strato volcano covered with glaciers. During the mid summer to fall the Middle Fork becomes cloudy as the glacial meltwater becomes the dominant source of flow. The diversion is only used part of the time to augment the lake levels in Lake Whatcom, a natural lake and the city's drinking water source. The city also supplies water to non city residences.

Lower Demming Glacier. Blue line marks terminus of the glacial in 1993.

All that silt and mud in Mirror Lake is a source of phosphorus, a natural occurring problem for Lake Whatcom water quality. Phosphorus can lead to algae growth and results in low oxygen levels in shallow part of the lake. The low oxygen levels also cause phosphorus in the lake bottom sediments to be released making the problem worse. Algae utilize the phosphorus and also utilize available nitrates to the point that algae that can directly utilize nitrogen from the water start to become dominant leading to possible toxic blooms. The phosphorus loads to the lake have caused the lake to become degraded, particularly at its northern end.

As such the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have been required to lower the amount phosphorus entering the lake by Washington State Department of Ecology under the Clean Water Act. The reductions are spelled out in a TMDL (total maximum daily load) (All and more HERE). But the requirements do not apply the the diversion as it is exempted. The requirements have also not been applied to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources or other forest property managers. Ecology decided to treat commercial forest land as natural background despite ample scientific evidence that forest roads are a major source of sediment discharge.

Hence, two major sources of phosphorus inputs to the lake - the diversion of water full of grounded up volcanic andesite and logging roads are included in the calculation of phosphorus inputs to the lake, but are excluded from being required to be reduced.

When Whatcom County took over management of the 8,000 plus acres of Lake Whatcom Forest Board Lands from the DNR, the County was given no credit in phosphorus reduction to the lake despite the fact that reconveyance will prevent 22 miles of new road building in the watershed and will greatly maintain the forest cover relative to DNR management.This issue of no credit points to a weakness of the TMDL process and to a broad challenge of Ecology oversite of water quality related to forest practices. Perhaps a result of competing natural resource issues.

The release of phosphorus via the diversion also presented a perception problem with the rules. For County government facing very stringent rule making and very expensive stormwater fixes to incrementally reduce phosphorus loads while at the same time a major source is allowed does raise some questions and perhaps some resentment.

The above said, the bigger problem for the lake has been at the north, shallow end of the lake where urban levels of development were permitted by the City of Bellingham for decades. Urban development and rural development permitted by the County at the north end of the lake has also contributed to elevated phosphorus discharge to the sensitive north end of the lake. The shallow waters at the north end of the lake are susceptible to algae blooms due to elevated nutrient levels. Fortunately, the discharges of phosphorus at the south end of the lake from the city diversion and off of commercial forest lands is into deep water where low oxygen is not an issue and most of the phosphorus remains unavailable for algae. But it may have been better if Ecology could have somehow managed to separate out this problem.              

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Music: The War on Drugs - Eyes to the Wind and Burning

A bit Krugman-like with Friday music. I have been listening to this band of late. Not for everyone, but I have been enjoying them.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pile Driving Noise in Bellingham

The last couple of days I have been hearing the distinctive repeating clank of pile driving both from my office and home. When I initially heard the sound I thought someone might be driving a geoprobe sampler nearby, but the noise was too continuous for geo probe sampling. 

On my walk to work I saw the source of the sound. An old rail road bridge crossing Whatcom Creek that has been used as a trail was damaged by a fire, and is now being replaced with steel pile supports being installed over the past few days - hence the loud tapping sound echoing across the north down town area.   

The pile driver is a relatively light weight machine that hammers the piles into the ground. The piles must be driven to depth that will support the vertical loads, but also need to be embedded deep enough to support lateral loads on the piles. Soil density and makeup are critical to knowing the depth of the pile. Soils in this area are fill along the creek and glacial marine drift. A deeper dense sand unit is also present. But I am part of this project so don't know the goals for how deep the piles need to be. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Day Creek Mesa

This DEM (digital elevation model) of the Skagit River valley shows the river has been systematically eroding away an older river valley floor. In the image above dark green is lowest elevation white/gray is highest.

A closer look shows the active channel migration area in the green colors shows lots of active channel movement back and forth that on occasions bumps up against the sides of the old valley floor in this area near Day Creek. The older valley floor can be seen in the brown to light green shades. Streams flowing across this elevated remnant valley floor are incised down through land surface and the broad channel migration zone of Day Creek can be seen on the right also cut down below the old valley surface.The features suggest this reach of the Skagit is a net erosion area. An even higher elevation remnant valley floor can be seen in center of the image. This remnant isolated fragment forms a small mesa that some how survived previous erosion. The mesa correlates with the elevated terrace in gray on the east side of the image. As far as I know this is the only isolated mesa like feature in the valley. Most of the older valley floor areas are connected to the sidewalls of the valley as terraces. 

The shape of the mesa has been altered a fair bit in recent years by anthropogenic erosion. The mesa is mostly underlain by high quality sand and gravel and has been actively mined in the early 2000s.   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thoughts Far From Washington: Sinjar, Northwest Iraq

The plight of the Yazidis is a terrible thing. I was curious about the Yazidis situation and the mountain they had fled to. So while doing some DEM (digital elevation model) work I paid a visit to northern Iraq and found Mount Sinjar.
The town of Sinjar is at the base of the south side of the mountain. The DEM clearly shows the mountain is a classic double plunging anticline with the younger rocks tilted up on either side of the fold and the older rocks in the center.
Sinjar is indicated with the red oval

Sinjar in red oval in northwesr Iraq with Syria to the northwest

As can be seen Sinjar is an outlier in the desert. Kurdish areas are to the north, northeast and northwest. While there is much chatter about ISIS and oil fields, note the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, cutting across the desert and large reservoirs. In my mind, second to the slaughter of people, the water issue and how water will be managed with this new government (ISIS) is worrisome.
Sinjar Mountain and the town on its south flank.
The desert landscape is nearly as good as the DEM 
The road up the mountain side
The mountain is approximately 3,000 feet above the desert floor.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Notes on Washington's Big Burn of 2014: Weather Charts

A map of the fire progression of the Carlton Fire Complex provides a sense of how this fire blew across the landscape in two days when conditions were very bad. Truly amazing that no one was killed.  

The Google earth image below gives a general sense of the area where the fire complex took place. Classic fire prone area of dry forest mixed with grass and brush land. 

This area is potentially subject to fire just about every year. It is the edge of tree habitat. Wet enough for trees, but subject to long dry periods that are subject to fire with more grassy areas burning more frequently and thicker forest being less frequently at risk of fire. The tree line moves around based on fire frequency and intensity. 

All sorts of factors come into play: length of time since the last fire, land management., age of tree stands, mix of vegetation, types of grass, slope aspect, elevation and of course the recent weather leading up to the fire and the weather during the fire. For the Carlton Complex the weather conditions for a two day period when the fire spread rapidly were clearly really bad - very hot and windy.  

I took a gander at the weather leading up to this rather bad fire season in central Washington and there is a general pattern between the stations that can be seen. A very wet February that brought total precipitation up to normal and in some cases well above normal followed by a very dry April, May and June with above average temperatures followed by a very hot July. July 2014 was the hottest on record in Wenatchee. Throw some lightning strikes onto this weather pattern in July and there will be bad fires. 

Very wet February and early March, then very dry with a very hot July 

Chief Joseph 
This site is east of the fire area but has a long weather record dating back to the 1940s
Wet February followed by drier and warmer than normal and then very hot July 

Near where several fires stared in the upper Methow Valley
Very wet February and early Mach then bone dry and warm and then very hot

Similar pattern wet February and early March then dry and warm and then really hot.

In looking at some of the area that was in the burn zone I did some before and after looking and noted there are a lot more homes in portions of this fire prone area.

1991 east of Methow

2013 east of Methow

I do not know how the above area did. It is a matter of how well fire protected the homes were combined with just what the fire conditions were when this particular area burned.

This is tough business and difficult policy. Brad Plummer has what has become the typical fire season article explaining how policy and funding are not matched with a nice mix of references the-us-forest-service-is-running-out-of-money-to-fight-wildfires. Washington State Department of Natural Resources puts huge efforts into fighting fires as well as well as local communities. But for at least a couple of days there was little anyone could have done.     

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dodging Redevelopment In Seattle

Had a bit of a slow transit from one project site to another in Seattle and took a windshield shot juxtaposing an old Seattle icon with the newer development.

Super Wash sign from Highway 99

This car wash sign is a Seattle classic that dates back to a different era, but still remains despite the intensive redevelopment that has been taking place the past few years in the vicinity.

The Seattle landscapes have gone through numerous periods of redevelopment. A previous post (sicks-stadium-lowes-and-rainier-valley) noted the change from a baseball stadium to a hardware store and a proposed scheme to redevelop yet again. Since then the rezone of the Lowes site has been approved to allow the redevelopment to go forward.

I ended the day at a project in Seattle's Central District. I did a bit of walking around before dinner and came across this mock up of a public notice sign at a vacant lot expressing the redevelopment wishes of some local creative person.

Proposed pool and trampoline park by a future planning activist

I took advantage of being in the Central District to get dinner at an old haunt from a past personal era. It was good to see this place, like the car wash sign, is still part of the Seattle landscape and not yet victim to redevelopment schemes. I enjoyed my short ends and potato salad.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Governor Inslee and CO2 in New York Times

Oysters and Dabob Bay

CO2 and policy and politics in Washington State got some New York Times attention yesterday:

Ralph Schwartz adds a little local perspective ny-times-shows-that-stances-on-coal-terminal-look-fuzzy-at-a-distance.

While Washington State comes out better as far as future climate change in model predictions relative to other locations and even sea level rise will be less here than the world average, it turns out that we will see much greater and earlier impacts due to changes in carbonate availability in local sea water. A change that has local shell fish folks very concerned. A couple of previous posts on ocean changes due to CO2: ocean-co2-yes-it-is-alarming and  more-notes-on-ocean-acidification.

I will add that at the Washington State political level Governor Inslee is a CO2 optimist in his view that the State can make a difference. It really is too bad that CO2 has been caught up in party tribalism and that not a single Washington Sate GOP member of the State Senate can act on CO2.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Case for CO2 Pessimism

A while back Ezra Klein was interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates wrote an article in the Atlantic title: The Case For Reparations (I highly recommend reading the Atlantic article). Most of the interview was about Coates' Atlantic article. But part way through the interview, Coates asked Klein "How are we going to deal with climate change?"

Below is Klein's answer clipped from the full interview. Klein followed up with an article: 7 reasons America will fail at global climate change
One note I will add is that while CO2 inputs into the atmosphere and the associated warming forcing associated with CO2 is well recognized, the CO2 inputs into the ocean should be even more of a concern.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Curbing CO2 will not be easy

“When coal miners lose jobs, it has a ripple effect through the entire state. West Virginia is the third largest energy-producing state, and we can’t allow the Obama administration to collapse our economy for the sake of ideological extremism.” - West Virginia State Attorney General.

Curbing CO2 emissions is not going to be easy technically or politically. The very idea is viewed in some positions of power as ideological extremism. Kind of a tough environment to negotiate.

Eleven states along with West Virginia have joined in the lawsuit in opposition to the proposed EPA CO2 rules. The states are Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming. A mix of coal mining states and states heavily dependent on coal for electric power.