Thursday, December 28, 2023

Haystack Rock and Invasive Columbia River Basalt Group

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is one of the iconic images of Oregon. Cannon Beach has a very broad sandy beach both north and south and between the town and the rock. The site is a popular destination and is only about 80 miles from Portland. 

Haystack Rock consists of basalt that is more resistant than the generally very soft marine sediments that make up much of the coast in this area. The basalt is Columbia River Basalt Group magma that erupted as huge flood basalts in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. The lava flows extended down the ancestral route of the Columbia River all the way to the Pacific Ocean about 15 million years ago. 

The basalts along the Oregon Coast were thought to be of local derivation as there are numerous intrusive dikes and sills within the local sedimentary rocks. However, as detailed chemical analysis and age dates of the basalts were obtained it turned out that these north Oregon coast basalt matched the chemistry and the age of the basalt of the Columbia River Basalt Group. This presented a challenging problem: How could the upper mantle produce virtually identical sequences of magma in these widely separated and tectonically dissimilar regions and yield them for eruption at the same time?  

Beeson, Perttu and Perttu (1979) proposed that the Oregon Coast basalts were the results of lava flows that flowed into the soft sediment along the coast as invasive lava flows that sank down through the muds and sands of the soft sediments. Hence, the dikes and sills of basalt within the soft sediments along north coast of Oregon are not from local volcanic centers but are from lava flows that sank down into the soft sediment intruding or invading the soft sediment mud. 

The haystack rocks and cliff south of Cannon Beach are good sites for observing this phenomenon.

A challenge is to get to the area at low tide. Given that my trips to Cannon Beach have been in the winter when daytime tides were high and coincided with large storms, my observation time was limited or restricted entirely. 

Not much of beach with waves reaching the base of the bluffs.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Marketing Beer Names for Geologists and Invasive Basalt

Looking for beer options I went for the geology branding.

 The stout tasted good and I'd buy it again as I generally like heavy dark beers. 

Besides the geology market it is a good reminder to be sure to know the escape routes while visiting the Pacific Northwest coast. No tsunamis today but I kept an eye out for sleeper waves while venturing to some exposures of invasive Columbia River Basalt. Alas the high tide limited my ventures. 

Columbia River Basalt and marine sediments

Sea stacks of basalt  


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Snowing White Geese on Samish Flats

Heading back home recently I watched the main flock of snow geese descending over the Samish Flats. 

The flats in the foreground were potato fields this year. This particular filed was harvested in November. I have been surprised at how late the potato harvest extends and note that some fields might not get harvested when the heavier fall rains arrive early. The geese descending towards the muddy fields are partly obscuring the southern end of what are locally called the Chuckanut Range.   

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Vox: What's inside this crater in Madagascar?

Nothing to do with Washington State but a great story of curiosity driven by looking at Google Earth with geology being a big part of the story.  

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Tree Top Spear

I have seen broken tree tops stabbed into the earth but this one ranks as the most impressive. 

The spear and the source

Sunday, December 3, 2023

King Tides, Storm Surge and Field Work

We are in king tide season. King tides are the higher high tides of the year and winter is when the tides are the highest. The moon is the bigger driver of tides, but the sun is critical in the seasonal variability of tides that result in the highest tides of the year.

The earth is closest to the sun on about January 3 and hence the pull of the sun on the earth tides is greatest on that day. However, the tilt of the earth relative to the earth's orbit results in the Washington coast dipping downward into the maximum tide zone during the winter solstice. Hence, our highest astronomical tides take place in the December/January period.    

Declination and tides from Hicks (2006). 

In the above figure Washington State is approximately at the C-D line. The result is that when we are at position C we are in the king tide zone. 

Other Factors

Storm Surge:  The astronomical tide is impacted by meteorological forcing. A deep low pressure system will result in a higher tide level than the astronomical tide. The wind around the deep low pressure also results in water being piled up against the coast depending on the track of the low pressure. The track of a hurricane center is a very important component of the storm surge associated with hurricanes. The low pressure of the hurricane will result in storm surge but so does the wind. Being on the right hand side of an approaching hurricane (from the hurricane's view) can result in huge storm surges.

The same issue holds true for the Washington State coast. Deep low pressure systems bring lots of wind that will push and pile water up at different locations depending on the track of the low and the wind fields around the low. The impact of deep low pressure storms and associated wind fields on the inland waters of the Salish Sea is complex due to the shape of the multiple waterways. Yang and others (2019) modeled storm surge in the Salish Sea and provide an estimated maximum storm surge map for the Salish Sea.

Figure 12 from Yang and others (2019)

A large storm surge December 27, 2022 resulted in significant shoreline flooding as the storm surge coincided with an already high astronomical high tide event. 

Water overtopping shoreline dike at Alice Bay, Skagit County
(note center road stripe under water) 

Water overtopping shoreline dike at Alice Bay
(note white fog line road stripe under water)

18.61-year lunar nodal cycle: The plane of the orbit of the moon is inclined 5.145° from the equator. The result is that the moon's pull on the tide varies. When the moon is above the equatorial plane the pull is larger. We are currently in a period when the moon is more frequently above the equatorial plane during the king tide period. The result is more frequent tides being extra high this year as well as next and therefore the odds of a very high astronomical tide coinciding with a storm surge are greater this year and next than on average.   

Timing of winter high tides

The tides set the waters of the ocean basins into motion. This moving water pushes up or pulls away continents and up into the inlets like such as the Salish Sea. The actual response of the ocean basins and estuaries to tides is complicated and can lead to some pretty remarkable tides. I recall walking out on a dock in the Bay of Fundy with a 2 year old and being terrified of the potential fall hazard with boats 50 feet below us during low tide. Hicks (2006) provides a good overview of the factors that impact estuary tide levels.  

A peculiar feature of tide interactions in the Salish Sea area I work along most frequently is the lack of low tide during the day light hours of winter. Assessments of shoreline bluffs in mid winter can be complicated by the tides as the plot below shows.

High tide was at about 8 in the morning, but the low tide at noon is not exactly low with second high tide coming in at 3:15 in the afternoon. The main low tide was really low - a negative tide at around midnight. Clam digging or oyster harvest at night in the winter. 

I had a bit of hike to reach the shoreline bluff I needed to visit as there was no access down the very steep and high bluff for a few miles in both directions. I know this shore reach well enough that I figured I could make the 8 mile round trip hike with only the need for limited wading where the beach was narrow. With sunset at 4 the best I was going to get was a tide of about 8 feet. Note that there was minimal storm surge and the other plus was it was a calm day with no ocean swell coming in the strait.  I started the hike after noon. The deepest wade was only shin deep and the waves were minimal. The water was warmer than the steady rain as the air temperature was 38 degrees. 

House lights atop a high bluff above the Salish Sea

I took the above picture while heading back from my venture. I had to hold the camera against a log due to the darkness. The warm glow of the house lights struck me as a nice touch. I still had two miles to go to reach my car.  

While I think most folks would consider that venture just awful, I was completely content. I had reached my destination, figured out the landslide complex and shoreline processes adequately, gotten a good hike in and timed the trip so it could be done. The satisfaction of field work!  

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Samish Island Geology Talk

 I gave this talk on Samish Island this past week. 

Geology map of the Bellinghan 1:100,000 Quad (Lapen, 2000)

Note that I was a bit hesitant to discuss the Jurassic on Samish because it is very complex and there are still a fair bit of story that is not understood. But really old stories tend to have a lot of missing information.
Jurassic formations in the interior of North America and desert areas are structurally simpler than the Jurassic formations in northwest Washington. There is however a lot missing in the geology story shown in the picture. Erosion has removed millions of years of sediment and multiple formations that were formerly above these Jurassic age formations.  

Jurassic formation in northwest Washington

This study also provides a good summary of the Darrington Formation on Samish and also gets into details regarding the metamorphic fabrics and kink fold development in the phyllite

Impress your friends by pointing out kink folds

Ned Brown (2017) provided this figure for the depositional setting of the Darrington Phyllite.
Getting this story out of the Easton Suite took years of work by Ned and many of his grad students.
There are still unanswered questions and more work to be done.

This map shows San Juan - Northwest Cascades accreted terranes as well as some of the accreted blocks to the east (Brown and Dragovich, 2003). The Easton Suite is the green with hatched areas indicating Darrington Phyllite added by Dunham (2010)

View of Blanchard Mountain from Samish
Darrington Phyllite and other rocks in the Easton Suite can be viewed along Chuckanut Drive along the base of  Blanchard from the Samish Flats to just past Oyster Creek. 

Map is from Dragovich and others (2002) showing a simplified map of northwest Washington.
Most of the units shown on the map area accreted terranes. 
Large swaths of northern Washington State nearly to the Idaho border consist of accreted terranes added onto the western edge of North America. 
Some of the terranes including the Easton likely were accreted well to the south and then were displaced northward to their current position. This multiple process of accretion and then displacement resulted in the very many deformational fabrics in the Darrington Phyllite that is found on the west end of Samish Island.

Note that if people were present along the coastal areas of North America during the last glacial period, those occupation sites are now under water.

Map from Greenburg and Haugerud video.
As glacial ice approached Puget Sound sea level was lower and what is now Puget Sound may not have existed at that time but may have been filled in plain of rivers (more on that later)

A modern model of the Puget/Juan de Fuca ice. A large tongue of ice flowing off the high ice sheet to the coast of Greenland.

First slide of isostatic loading.
The thick ice (5,000 feet) pushed the local land surface down hundreds of feet.
Note the depressed area in front of the ice.

Another Greenland analog. Large volumes of sediment entering the water from rivers of water that flowing under the ice. 

The sediment that was in the rivers flowing out the ice front and deposited can be seen along the south bluff and north bluffs on Samish Island. The lower silt was in a lake setting when the ice was still far away. As the ice got closer the shorter flow distance results in sand and in this case gravel. The large angular piece embedded in the gravel is a rip up clast of mud ripped up by the fast moving water. 

This is from the bluff on the north side of the island northwest of the Wharf Street access.
The same scenario, but this material is very dense and hard and I suspect that it is from an earlier ice age.

Eroding bluff on the south side. Note the forest n the bluff. The bluff is underlain by sand and gravel and faces south and Samish is at least partially within the rain shadow of the Olympics. This forest is a a relatively rare forest in this area. 

The forest is mostly oak

This is a glacial sediment that most of the upland Samish folks are familiar with.
Dense and hard silt and clay with rocks. Glacial till deposited directly by glacial ice.

Working the glacial till soil is difficult

Extent of ice during last maximum

Note that glacial ice is flowing up the valleys
Glacial ice in the alpine areas may have shrunk back due to the drier local climate as the large Puget ice lobe advanced south.

Another Greenland analog
Dirty ice with water pooled on the ice sheet.
Where does that meltwater go?

Water flowing out of the Puget ice lobe flowed out of multiple channels and carved the Chehalis River valley. But note too that the water flowing under the ice was a powerful erosion force, The subglacial water flow excavated out ay of the deep waterways of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.

This shows that the ice lobe blocked off the Skagit River and the Stillaguamish. Glacial ice that flowed over the North Cascades from the north eventually made it down the Skagit and Stilly. The lake deposits from this period were and are eroded by the rivers and have resulted in large landslides. Oso being the most recent. 

Not a Samish Island feature but nearby on Whidbey Island.
As the ice melted out of Puget Sound the ice margin was stationary for a length of time at Coupeville leaving behind a moraine and a bunch of pits (kettles) in the ground. 

Modern analog from coastal Alaska

Note that ther  are trees growing on the glacier. As the ice melts under them pits form.

View of Whidbey Island. The depression on the bluff is where the bluff intersects one of the kettles

Kettles in Whatcom County
Note that there are no kettles on Samish

Reminder about the 5,000 feet of ice pushing the land down

When the ice thinned and melted away from the Samish Island area Samish Island was below sea level. The thick ice had pushed the land down and sea water then covered the area. There may have been floating ice over the sea at that time.

Glacial ice lingered longer in Whatcom County. Note that the ice in Whatcom County blocks the Nooksack and Chilliwack Rivers sending water (blue arrows) south along the South Fork Nooksack drainage valley and into the Samish.  

DEM of Samish River valley just east of I-5
The water directed into the Samish was a big river. The present day Samish did not form this big valley.

Lidar image of part of Samish Island, Post ice age, the land rebounded from the ice loaded and Samish Island rose up out of the sea becoming an island. As the land emerged very subtle shoreline strands were formed on the land surface. 

Initially Samish Island was well out in the water. Sediment from the Skagit River has and still is resulting in the Skagit delta growing out. 

DEM of the delta today. Orange and yellow show the thickening sediment deposited by the river on the delta as the river has shifted discharge locations over time. Blue areas are part of the distal parts of the delta and are below high tides except that the dikes around the outer edge of the delta hold teh water out. 

Sediment inputs from the various rivers into the southern Salish Sea (USGS). Note that the Skagit is the biggest sediment supply, but also note that the smallish Nooksack also has a large supply. Why are these two rivers dumping so much sediment. Both are flowing of of areas with lots of glaciers but there is also another big source in the Skagit.   
Glacier Peak viewed from Whidbey Island
Well up the in the Skagit watershed is a large volcano. I like to call it the sneaky volcano because it does not stand out like the other volcanos because it is back in the range with other high peaks obscuring the view from the lowlands.

Lahar hazard map for Glacier peak.
Mud flows associated with eruptions on Glacier Peak have sent large flows of mud down the Skagit and Stillaguamish. One mud flow in what is now the Stillaguamish resulted in the Sauk River changing course and instead of flowing down the Stilly valley now flows into the Skagit. Sediment from past mudflows from Glacier Peak underlie areas west of Mount Vernon and on the delta.
A future large eruption of Glacier Peak will result is some interesting challenges on the delta. 

DEM of Samish Flats. Old Skagit channel heading towards Joe Leary Slough can be seen. Blue areas are low areas that would be inundated by tide water if not for dikes. 

Those low areas are also susceptible to flooding when the river dikes break or are overtopped.
Samish Island on occasion becomes more island like.

The delta that is crossed to get to Samish Island is excellent farm land as long as the tide water can be kept out and the soils drained earlier enough to work the fields. 

Blueberry fields on the delta

I love the credit that geology gets in shaping civilization, but think that if we understand the geology better we realize that there is plenty of notice. Perhaps a new quote could be be derived from how well does a civilization respond the the notices.  

A couple of recent notices. 
Low pressure approaching the Strait of Juan de Fuca with intense winds circulating around the low.

Vapor image of low near the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Storm surge tide (green) compared to predicted tide (blue) at Port Townsend. Storm added 2.5feet to the tide elevation. 

The December 27, 2022 storm surge at Port Townsend.
This storm coincided with a very high astronomical tide (king tide).

Seawater flowing over the dike east and road on Samish Island Road on December 27, 2022 

In addition to tide surge, the relative sea level of the area is expected to increase. Chart derived from Lavin and others (2019) reflects the local relative sea level rise chances. The table takes into account local tectonic uplift, but it might not reflect the localized delta changes.   

Shore erosion and slides working up the slope below Samish Island Road

Tsunami inundation map from DNR showing talk site inundation of 4.5 feet.  

Per a request I have two pictures of landslides resulting from yard waste placed on the top of steep bluff slopes.