Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Reading the Clouds and into the Heat

Doing some explorations in the great expanses of central Nevada I enjoyed a clear starry night. However, some clouds arrived by early morning that showed classic instability. A bit surprising given the early morning. Having been cut off from radio, cell, and internet for a few days as well as being in a place where long range weather reports have to be a bit broad-stroke, I read the early morning clouds as problematic.

I cancelled my scheme of climbing (scramble/hike) another high peak and headed out to paved road and towards my rendezvous location well to the south.

Reading the car thermometer as I dropped into lower valleys to the south was big change from the high country and the highest temperature of my summer. The previous mark had been 105 in July.

I tolerate cold and wet (wet for one night) fairly well. But pitching camp on gravelly ground with no shade is like trying to sleep on a frying pan. So I went soft and went fro a pool and motel.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Notes on Zoning, Floods and Houston We Have a Problem

Plenty has been written and will be written and talked about regarding flooding in Houston associated with the recent hurricane. More will come from Irma as well. 

If you have not read Boomtown, Flood Town, take a gander to get a little perspective as well as some very informative interactive maps. The article includes what could be described as classic local planning dialog that goes a long way in explaining how people end up living in hazardous areas. One example was the former head of the flood control district in Houston in reference to scientists and conversationalists concerned about development in flood areas, "They have an agenda, their agenda to protect the environment overrides common sense". At least from afar, it seems that building 7,000 new homes in the floodways (even more in flood plains) around Houston since 2010 is not a common sense.

Federal policy, state policy and local policy all play a role in flood hazards. Federal flood policy includes funding flood works, funding disaster response and recovery and also subsidizes flood insurance. 

In order to qualify for flood insurance communities need to adopt regulations that ideally will reduce the number of claims over time and thus reduce the costs. New flood maps that determine rates and building areas are often met with protest. Houston did attempt to limit development in floodways, but the local political push back from development interests was very hard and effective at reducing controls of development in floodway areas. 

From the campaign opposing regulations in the floodways:

"the property owners in the floodway throughout the city, who have invested in these lands, and have expected our lands, our homes, our castles, to be vested as part of our future nest egg, our future investment and future retirement, we all have been summarily sacrificed. The city must revise this ordinance! The way things are going … to all the property owners in the “floodplain”; who knows … you could be next?"

A power point presentation laid out the argument they used: tax base loss, use a study that refutes the original studies (that is disparages the existing studies that back up the plan), property rights (ignoring the damage to other properties) and ague other solutions should be done not this one.  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fear and Loathing of Ground Wasp Nests

Ground nesting wasps are a field work hazard I have noted previously (fall wasps). My latest sting adventure did give me a bit of a scare. My feet plowed through a nest as I was sliding down a slope though thick brush. The roar of wasps swarming around me was disconcerting and my escape route required reversing direction and crawling back up the steep slope through the brush hole I had come through. A couple of back slips while scrambling over the lip of the slope while surrounded by wasps is not a wildlife interaction that I would want to repeat.

One lesson I have learned is that after putting some distance from the nest removing clothes is a good idea. I had a least 10 wasps on my shirt. I squashed about 20 on my pants as fast as I could and got my pants off with only one additional sting where one got down below my waste.

My understanding is that in the process of stinging pheromones are released that stimulate more wasps to attack and sting. Squashing them of course releases the pheromones. That appeared to be verified when I got my pants back on and went to retrieve my shirt. Four wasps lifted of my shirt and went straight to my pant legs where I had smashed wasps.

A spare set of clothes would be a good scheme. I spent the rest of the slope investigation a bit paranoid. This may have been in part due to my watching Fortitude with a premise of parasitic wasps coming out of thawing woolly mammoths.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Cryptic Squirrel In Washington State

Glaucomys oregonensis is a new species of flying squirrel identified in western Washington. I like the term "cryptic" that is applied to a newly identified species that had not been previously recognized as a separate species.  The term cryptic species is also applied to Juniperus-maritima (Adams, 2007).  

The recognition of these cryptic species strongly suggests that they were separated from the species they were formerly thought to be for a much longer time. That separation may have to do with a longer period of cold climate along the west coast.   

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Quincy Basin Plumbing

I used some digital elevation maps with color changes set to specific elevations to help visualize the Quincy Basin. The Quincy Basin is bound by the Breezley Hills on the north and the Frenchman Hills to the south. The Palouse highlands are to the east. High ground is located to west. This high ground is rather subtle and is immediately bounded to the west by the deep valley/canyon of the Columbia River.  

Ice-age floods surged into the Quincy Basin multiple times with much of the water coming out of the Grand Coulee. Some flood waters also came in from the east that spilled out of the floodway south of Spokane and the Telford scabland spillway to the northeast.  

DEM of Quincy Basin showing broad alluvial features 

This DEM shows how high the water or filled up the basin needed to be in order for the overflow at the northwest corner of the basin to form. (Note typo on map - should be Breezley)

Closer view of the northwest overflow spot as well as the large spill way to the south

With lower water levels (dark green) the northwest water exit would no longer be reached and hence is a much smaller coulee than those to the south.

This DEM shows the two western outflow locations

After each large flood event the plumbing of the basin would have be altered. The early floods into the basin would have backed up water deeper and over a larger area. As lower spillways out the basin were eroded they became wider and deeper and hence the northwest spill over spot would have only received flood waters in the earliest floods. The other spillways would have also started loosing water as the larger spillway to the south through the Drumheller Channels became more established.

The areas of high water flow are rocky ground and include bedrock stripped of soil or boulder strewn gravel bars. The ares of backed up water though left behind thick silt layers. With water from the Columbia Basin Project, the Quincy Basin has been transformed into an expanse of very productive farmland.   

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chasing the Moon Shadow

I did venture south to see the total solar eclipse. This was my first trip to see a total solar eclipse. I experienced one previously because I was living in the path of totality. 

I only took two pictures (other than my travel mates watching the sun with our glasses prior to totality). With only two minutes I simply wanted to take it in as much as possible - and leave the picture taking to those with better skills, experience and equipment.

We were very near the center path with a view of the Oregon Cascades volcanoes to the east. Mount Jefferson, a 10,000-footer was in the totality path. I snapped a picture of it when it fell into the full shadow of the moon, but the full shadow had not reached us.   

After the shadow arrival I took in being able to stare directly at the sun and see a black space surrounded by the white glow of the corona. Seeing live the solar flairs rising above the surface of the sun. Planets close to the sun briefly visible and stars that are always there in the middle of the day briefly revealed. During the total eclipse I took one picture of Mount Hood, another Cascade volcano. Hood was not in the path of totality. We could also see the Sisters, a group of volcanoes to the south outside the totality path.

A wondrous experience to be briefly touched by the moon's shadow. Well worth the modest effort to get to totality.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Oldrich Hungr

David Petley provided a nice post on the recent passing of Oldrich Hungr (/landslideblog/2017/08/19/professor-oldrich-hungr/).

Dr. Hungr has influenced how landslides and debris flows are assessed and influenced policy approaches regarding landslide and debris hazards. That influence has been particularly true in his home of British Columbia and because of the proximity of his work at least in part Washington State. His background as a consultant and professor and his willingness to work in the public sphere has been an inspiration.

For me personally his published work is very much part of my own library of frequently referenced and repeatedly read papers.

Dr. Petley referenced his exchanges with Dr. Hungr regarding the Oso landslide. I became very familiar with Dr. Hungr's take on the Oso slide and found that his analysis of the slide was very similar to my own. Of course it was because as noted above his published work has become very much incorporated into my own approach to assessing landslide and debris flow hazards.

For geologists and engineers that work in the field of landslide hazards and alluvial fan hazards, he will continue to have a long lasting influence.

May we carry on his work.