Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Winter Notes From the Skagit Delta and Spring Tulips

Winter is well over now. A quick sum up of this winter's weather in western Washington: September was very wet - so wet that on the Skagit and Samish Flats the potato harvest was not completed due to saturated fields that prevented harvest equipment from being able to operate. The rest of the fall reversed course including into December. It was not the typical days of rain and gloom but instead was mostly dry and mild. January made up for the dry fall with relentless rain that led to a fair uptick in shallow landslides. A brief week of cold spell followed with, at least at Samish, a string of snow storms that kept me home bound for a few days when the snow got above the front bumper. The rest of the late winter and spring was dry. 

A key to farming on the Skagit and Samish Flats is getting out on the fields. The early dry spell meant an early start to working the rich delta soils. It also meant upon my return from eastern Washington getting behind slow farm equipment on the road.    

The sloe pace of 10 miles per hour gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery including views of tulip fields.

Although the day was bit overcast the ground was warmed up enough to cause a distant field of red tulips to appear to levitate.

Tulips are a business. The above field had been harvested for cut flowers earlier in the day. Eventually the bulbs are harvested as well. Hope this will bring some brightness to our Covid times and the workers in these fields stay healthy. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Clallam Formation and Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1900)

I had a bit of a hike on a closed logging road to access a steep slope. The road cut into the slope has a few small scale slumps exposing the underlying sandstone of the Clallam Formation.

The Clallam Formation is on north coast of the Olympic Peninsula along the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Slip Point on the east end of Clallam Bay to Pillar Point. The sandstone dominated formation forms a slight outward bulge of the coast line with steep bedrock cliffs down to a bedrock platform shoreline. I did not have the opportunity to get out along the shore. The cliffs and tidal platform were an early attraction for geologists and in particular paleontologists because the abundant well preserved fossils in the formation. William Healey Dall ( spent time on this coast and described many of the mollusk fossils.

While I was not able to visit the shore, I did get to examine the rock on the road cuts and slumps I passed, and I readily found fossils.

Finding the well preserved fossil, I turned to Addicott, 1976 to see if I could identify the find. Addicott notes that Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1900) is the most characteristic mollusk in assemblages from the Clallam Formation. Given that I observed this fossil in most of the outcrops I looked at, I can back that up.

For non paleontologists, you could simply call these big scallops. Once upon a time I taught a paleontology lab class. I was always just a day ahead of the students and since then much of what I learned leaked out of my head. However, I have always had an appreciation for the detailed work of paleontologists and Addicott's detailed report help me understand the formation I was exploring.    

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Voting in the Time of COVID-19

 The State of Wisconsin is trying to run an election at the same time as a pandemic that requires social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. The difficulty of running an election with social distancing is beyond possible. The election offices have had a huge number of absentee ballot requests as voters try to social distance and poll workers decline to expose themselves to virus pathways.

The State of Wisconsin's attempt to modify the election process by having greater flexibility with  absentee ballots be sent out, received and returned during a pandemic was over ruled by a 5-4 Supreme Court descion

The majority opinion reference COVID-19 one time near the end

"The Court’s decision on the narrow question before the Court should not be viewed as expressing an opinion on the broader question of whether to hold the election, or whether other reforms or modifications in election procedures in light of COVID–19 are appropriate".

While the majority argues this is case was a narrow question, I suspect all " other reforms or modifications" would also be ruled on in a narrow manner. Further, while the majority mentions COVID-19 once, the ruling was otherwise oblivious to the consequence of the pandemic and alterations that must be done to stop the spread of the virus.

During the time of COVID-19 Washington State can be grateful that we have vote by mail (You can also simply drop your ballot off at ballot drop off stations). It is a much safer approach. 

In a different era (the early 2000s), I was on a county council that looked at our various voting options under new federal law passed after the 2000 presidential election. The new law eliminated punch card voting. Our County Auditor brought forward a preferred option - vote by mail.

The alternatives were far more expensive - costs of new voting machines, cost of software associated with new machines, cost of storing the machines and the costs of simply running polling stations all over a sprawling county with a city, small cities and low density farming and forest communities including parts of the county that required leaving the county to get to (Newhalem) or leaving the country (Point Roberts). The cost disparity was so great that the choice of vote-by-mail was by far the superior approach.

As I recall we were the second county to follow this route and now the entire state votes this way. Yes, we have to wait a bit to know election results. Election night, early returned ballots that have been processed (signatures verified) are counted. All ballots post marked election day or earlier are counted. In close elections it may be about a week before the final result is known, but it is now simply part of how elections go in Washington State. No more staying up late while exhausted election workers process ballots being delivered from the far reaches of the county.

Alas changing to vote-by-mail is politically fraught elsewhere in the Country with the debate having more to do with political power than voting efficiency and fairness. The very fact that the voting issue in Wisconsin ended up in the Supreme Court suggests as much as well.   

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Following Quercus garryana

I am making another attempt to be a tree follower (squirrelbasket/tree-following). My effort last year HERE was a fail. The problem was the tree was on a long vacant property that shortly shortly became not vacant. The tree remains, but I was unable/unwilling to trespass to get a good look to identify the tree. 

I have plenty of trees on our own property and I am only just beginning to get my head around the nuances of the forest. For this year I will follow a new tree.  

Quercus garryana 
Garry oak or Oregon oak or Oregon white oak 

I planted this tree last spring. The fence is to keep the deer from nibbling the tree. The soil is very hard glacial till. In western Washington oaks grow in the excessively well drained prairie sites, but there are patches in drier areas of the San Juan Islands as well as the Columbia River Gorge and valleys on the east slopes of the Cascade Range.

Samish Island is within the rain shadow of the Olympic Range and hence a bit on the dry side. There are oaks on the south facing bluffs of the island and I noted a small stand across Samish Bay on the lower slopes of Chuckanut Mountain. The biggest challenge to the oaks is shading out by taller evergreen trees - particularly the Douglas firs.

Not much to report at this late winter early spring time. Waiting for the leaves to come out and seeing if the tree tolerated saturated ground conditions from the very wet winter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid Nonpharmaceutical Intervention -Lessons from 100 Years ago

Vox News (coronavirus-social-distancing-economy-deaths) notes the consequence ending school closures and banning public events too soon. The article is a take on a 2007 JAMA paper that analyzed data from the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic (Nonpharmaceutical interventions implemented by US cities during the 1918-1919 influenza). Informative regarding methods to tamp down pandemics that were used 100 years ago and still apply today. And a cautionary story of ending interventions too soon. And perhaps suggests that the CDC guidance as well as state health decisions should lean towards closures to 3 or 4 months or more depending on how this pandemic proceeds.       

A chart showing St. Louis’s flu deaths during social distancing measures.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

You can be a COVID hero -- from your own home

I have a loved one in Illinois and found this message on sheltering in place worth sharing.

I am fortunate that in my work avoiding social contact is an easy task. It is very rare that I meet clients or attend meetings. What meetings may take place are easy to avoid. For others this virus is a much harder dilemma.

Maybe this chart and vox article will add some perspective. I know that when I saw this chart a few weeks ago I started to isolate as much as I could.

Be healthy and be a hero.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

HU Ranch Coulee by Bruce Bjornstad

Another great ice-age flood video by Bruce Bjornstad. This dry falls in a deeply incised fracture in the basalt is a bit east of Palouse Falls.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Late Winter View of Two Volcanoes

Much of Washington State enjoys views of volcanoes. In northwest Washington, Mount Baker is the scenic mountain. I can see its summit from my office window although much of it is obscured by intervening lower mountains. The view of Baker is typically better a bit further back from the mountains. Crossing the Samish Flats in Skagit County, I had a nice view of the mountain through a gap in the Northwest Cascades.  

Mount Baker on the left with summit just above the cloud.
Jagged peaks in the center are the Twin Sisters 

Seeing Baker on a clear late winter day is great. While taking in the view of Baker, it crossed my mind that the other volcano I had observed earlier in the day was about the same distance away as the view I had of Baker. So I took a picture of Baker with the same focal setting I had used earlier in the day when taking a picture of Mount Rainier. When I got home I checked the distances and both picture locations were about 31 miles from the subject mountain.

Mount Rainier 

The view of Rainier from Pierce County southeast of Tacoma is a bit of jolt. 4,000 more feet of elevation and the corresponding mass is an awesome site to take in.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Roosevelt Elk Shaped Land Use Policy on Olympic Peninsula

On a trip up the Hoh River valley to examine a potential large deep-seated landslide I got to take in the elk herd that occupies the valley.

This herd was one of two I observed just west of and outside of Olympic National Park. The herd is one of the few "unmanaged" elk herds. The elk on the Olympic Peninsula are on the large side compared to other elk. These elk played a significant role in the land management history of the Olympic Peninsula. 

C. Hart Merriam, head of the USDA Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy named the Olympic elk (Cervus canadensis Roosevelti). The name was in part to honor then Assistant Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt ( Merriam recalled the detail which Roosevelt pointed out regarding an specimen.

Theodore Roosevelt was an avid hunter and conservationist. As a hunter he became interested in protecting his name sake elk and attempted to create a reserve for the elk in the Olympics, but was blocked by Congress. He later used the Antiquities Act in 1909 to create Mount Olympus National Monument.

Three decades later Franklin Roosevelt pushed for the creation of Olympic National Park further protecting the elk range.      

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Rain Forest to the Big Dry

This winter has been on the wet side. But despite that my trip to the Hoh River on the west side of the Olympic Range was all sun.

Hoh River and Mount Olympus

Sunshine in the temperate rain forest of Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar

This view of Olympus was a surprise. I had driven this haul road numerous times but had no sense of the mountains as it was raining on all previous trips 

After a couple days on the outer coast I headed east to the high plains east of Washington and the Rockies to the Big Dry of Montana. I paid lots of attention to the weather reports as I navigated to and from my destinations.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Landslide Split Tree Stump

I assess a lot of slopes for potential landslide hazards as part of my work. The bluff slope of this inspection was obviously not stable. There was recent slope movement on the steep slope. And the top edge was failing along much of the bluff.

Fracture along outer edge of steep bluff from slope movement expanding into the upland above the older slides on the slope.

Given the wet weather over the past two months, slope failures on steep glacial drift soils is not surprising. Landslides can rip roots apart and twist trees. Indeed we observed roots that had been broken by the soil moving away down the slope.

Broken roots hanging above dropped down slide block

But, the tree stump pictured below is the first time I have seen a split stump ( I have seen split and splintered trees on landslides)  

Split and offset stump on landslide

The slide was taking place within glacial marine drift. While the definitive shells were not present, the marine drift was over consolidated by past wetting and drying and has distinctive vertical fracturing from the consolidation. The vertical fractures can lead to blocks of the upper hard drift breaking and sliding down steep slopes.

Fractured drift underlying upper slope

Hard silt/clay drift

Monday, January 27, 2020

Checking a Debris Flow Deposit

Debris flows on alluvial fans are a geologic hazard that can be of considerable consequence. This debris flow spilled large logs above the incised stream channel several years ago. I used my cell phone to record a few observations.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Adiabatic Heating and The Bear Who Stole the Chinook

A few messages suggested a bit more background on Snow Eater Wind would be useful. If there is a barometric pressure gradient across the mountains air will flow over the mountains and then descend down the other side. The air is a gas and will follow what is termed the Ideal gas law.  The simple equation is PV = NRT, where P = pressure, V = volume, N = amount of gas (moles), R = gas constant (a number value with an interesting history) and T = Temperature. Hence, if the pressure of the air is increased air will become warmer and if pressure decreases the air will become cooler; other aspects of the equation remaining equal and the gas behaves ideally. Of course there is more to this and that is why we have meteorologists.

Meteorologists use a term called dry adiabatic lapse rate and moist adiabatic lapse rate and  for how temperature will change within an air mass. When an air mass descends it will warm because the pressure is increasing. As an air mass descends it will warm at the dry adiabatic lapse rate which is approximately 5.5 degrees F for every 1,000 feet the air descends.

The strong east winds that reached Bellingham and Skagit County as well as the lower west slopes of the Cascade Range to the south were the result of a high pressure mound of air east of the Cascades with a low pressure off the coast of Washington. The high pressure air flowed towards the low pressure and as it descended it warmed at the dry adiabatic lapse rate. Even if the original air mass pulled over the mountains may have been cold, the increase pressure would cause it to warm substantially. The roughly 7,000-foot drop over the North Cascades Range would produce a warming of the descending air mass of 38.5 degrees F. So an air mass of say 10 degrees F would warm to 48 degrees F, about the temperature spike Bellingham had for a few hours last Wednesday evening.

Technically this is not a Chinook wind per meteorology, but the results are very similar and I would note the term Chinook wind is used more broadly by some and I do not know if the type of wind that descends east from the Cascades has been given a name.

Billy and I experienced our share of Chinook winds and he alerted me to this song by Jack Gladstone, a Blackfoot and former U of W Husky.       

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Snow Eater Wind Comes to Northwest Washington

Down slope winds off of mountain ranges can have a pronounced impact on temperature. Long cold spells in central and eastern Washington will come to abrupt ends when storm systems from the west are strong enough to push across the Cascade Range. The descending air will scour out the pool of cold air but also the descending air warms rapidly causing a sharp jump in temperature. The wind is locally called a Chinook and the term is used widely in the interior northwest U.S. out to Montana and the plains of Alberta.

A similar phenomena took place last night in the lowlands of western Washington - only the wind direction was reversed. A low pressure off the coast to the west created a sharp pressure gradient from east to west across the Cascade Range. The result was a sharp temperature increase from the descending air.         

Bellingham temperature plot

In Bellingham the temperature jumped about 20 degrees in minutes. The temperature spike lasted for a few hours and when the descending winds eased, the temperature returned the low 20s.

A similar effect took place in the Skagit lowlands that I experienced first hand. I had to venture out to pick up Lisa at the train station in Mount Vernon. The wind was very hard from the east; high enough to cause some slipping on the icy roads as the car was pushed about, and formed numerous speed bumps of snow drifts. But on the return the temperature jumped from the low 30s to the mid 50s in less than 5 minutes.

The Blackfeet Indians called these events snow eaters. Indeed much of the snow was eaten away down from its deep layer by the warmish and dry wind before the temperature lowered to the 30s and the slow wet melt that has persisted all day. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Snow Day on Samish

A snow shower band stayed in place over a swath of northwest Washington last evening leading to a snow day. Mid day I took a walk-about on the east end of Samish Island. 

Lummi Peak is the high point of Lummi Island to the northwest 

Chuckanut Mountain to the northeast with Samish Bay in the foreground

Blanchard Mountain with Samish Bay in the foreground

On USGS topographic maps Blanchard Mountain is lumped together with Chuckanut Mountian. Locally the term Blanchard Mountain is used for the southern summit area. The name is derived from the small village of Blanchard at the base of the mountain. Geologically the two mountains are markedly different with the northern Chuckanut Mountain underlain by Chuckanut Formation sedimentary rocks of Eocene age. Blanchard is underlain by metamorphic rocks of Jurassic age.

Lyman Hill to the southeast

Lyman Hill is 2,000 feet higher than the highest point on Chuckanut Mountain. Perhaps it seems hill like as to the main portions of the North Cascade Range is further to the east behind the "hill".

Alice Bay viewed from Scott Point at the east end of Samish Isalnd

The road towards home.

The road to Samish Island looking south from the island across the flats

Samish Island is an island that can be driven to. The island was separated from the mainland by tide flats prior to dikes being built to create farm land.
The road heading up onto the island

It was sort of a black and white day - mot much color with the snow and overcast. One bright spot was this Ixoreus naevius (varied thrush) on a small native cherry in the forest. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Betula papyrifera, Argilus anius and Temperature

A field venture a few days before the current cold spell took me through a wetlands restoration project, past thickets of Nootka rose, and an effort to push back on invasive canary reed grass.  

One challenge of environment restoration plantings is keeping the rodent and deep nibblers at bay; hence, the blue plastic tubes and fencing around plantings. 

The forest stand I passed through was a very mixed stand. This tree is a tree that has a limited range in Washington State, but is a common tree in the northwest Puget lowlands.

The bark pattern of this species in northwest Washington is often dark and can be mixed up with wild cherry, another local native tree. However, some do develop the more classic white bark. There is some variability in the species that early fur trappers noted - west of the Rocky Mountains the birch do not have the same quality of bark for the building of canoes, a bit of a disappointment for the river and lake traveling that fur traders relied on.

In Washington State, Betula papyrifera is limited to the northern reaches of the Puget lowlands in western Washington and far northern and eastern edges of the state.

Distribution of Paper Birch from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

The distribution of the species limiting factor is likely strongly associated with Argilus anius (bronze birch borer). Muilenburg and Herms (2012) provide an overview of the relationship of the borer and birch trees. Temperature plays a partial role. Deep freezes may slow the maturation of the borer. 

In northwest Washington, the paper birch is limited mostly to norther Puget lowlands. In the Birch Bay and Drayton Harbor area, the tree is one of the predominant species in the forest. These areas are cooler in the summer and perhaps the occasional bast of arctic air out the Fraser River canyon like today puts a bit of a check on the borer. Today, was a good example. While snow arrived in the Seattle area, the temperature in Seattle as I write this is 30 F, while the temperature at Birch Bay is 15 F. In addition, the northwest portion of the state is substantially cooler in the summer and thus a bit less stress for these cool weather wet ground trees.