Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Long Days

Lingering evening light almost due north on Interstate 5

In December the field day ends at 4:00 pm. But in June it is hardly ever dark. I had a cloudy day in the field a couple of days ago, but noted that 10:45 the sky to the north was still lit with light as I headed back to home. The long days make getting field done a lot work easier.

The long days we have make a big difference for farming as well. Even though the soil temperatures take awhile to warm up in northwest Washington, the long days make up for the difference. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Agate Pass, Bainbridge Island

I had a recent down slope traverse between recent landslides on a clayey slope on Bainbridge Island. This traverse entailed sliding from tree to tree down the slope. Better for slugs than people, but at least this slope had minimal blackberry brush and I guess I could claim it is one of my skill sets. 

Recent slide scarp

Dense clay on slide area

Random cobble embedded within the clay

I noted a few random cobbles embedded within the clay indicative of the unit being an ice margin lake. When glacial ice blocked off the north end of Puget Sound approximately 18,000 years ago, a lake formed over the Puget lowlands. In the Seattle area, the lake deposits associated with this lake are referred to as the Lawton Clays. Haugerud (2005) has utilized the Lawton Clay in his mapping of units on Bainbridge Island. based on what I observed this is a very reasonable interpretation.

I was not real keen on crawling back up the slippery steep slope and there were a couple of pitches I was not sure I wanted to try again with my shovel in hand so I set my sites on Agate Pass and using the bridge over the pass as a possible easy route back up.

Bridge at Agate Pass with casino on opposite shore

The Port Madison Indian Reservation is on the opposite shore from Bainbridge Island, and like many reservations in Washington has casino and hotel. Agate Pass itself had a favorable south wind and a northward tidal current at the time of my visit allowing for an easy passage for north bond sail boats. 
Agate Pass looking west

The route back up off the shore was an easy climb under the bridge span. And I got to see a bit more geology this way.

The east shore of the pass is a platform beach with a bare covering of sand and gravel over glacial drift.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Different Era for Orcas

I has some work around Penn Cove on Whidbey Island this week. Penn Cove was one the site of an Orca roundup. It was one of these well publicized captures that led to a shift in thinking about Orcas and hunting for capturing was banned

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Whatcom County Council Moves Forward on 8,700 Acre Park

The Whatcom County Council voted on sending a letter to the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands affirming their support of a land exchange followed by a reconveyance of Department of Natural Resources managed Forest Board Lands to Whatcom County. The reconveyed land will become a 8,700 acre forest preserve County park. The vote which is a clear indication that the park will go forward passed 5-2. More by Jared Paben HERE.

I attended the meeting and took some pictures. The issue was kind of a big deal for me and a few other folks. But really it is a big deal for Whatcom County. More later - lots of field work over the next few days.

Whatcom County Council from the left Carl Weimer in favor, Bill Knutzen opposed, Ken Mann in favor, Kathy Kershner in favor, Barbara Brenner opposed, Pete Kremen in favor and Sam Crawford in favor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Trail of Bjornstad and Kiver

Rainbow at sunset over Dry Falls

In some manner I feel I have been on Bruce Bjornstad's trail for many years. I went to high school in eastern Washington and later worked on figuring fate and transport mechanisms of various groundwater contaminants at the Hanford area. Most anyone with even a minimal understanding of the of the ice-age floods in eastern Washington will recognize J. Harlen Bretz's work, the work of understanding these floods and how exactly they shaped our landscape has been ongoing and it really continues to surprise and thrill. Whenever I get over on the east side of our state or down to the Columbia River and Portland and Longview areas, I have to look at things through the lens of the huge floods. Some of the features are so unique that a little help is always appreciated.

Having been trailing behind the work of Bjornstad and others I am looking forward to getting a little help on the features across the northern and upper end of the flood paths. Thanks to Dave Tucker and Dale Middleton for the heads up.
The book can be ordered from

Monday, May 21, 2012


Just signed a contract for a small project that is in part funded by federal funding. A clause in the contract included Certification Regarding Material Support and Resources to Terrorists .

The clause is three paragraphs long. I assume that this clause is likely in all contracts that have to filter through the federal system. We do not do a lot of government work at Stratum Group so I find the wording of contracts kind of interesting. I picture attorneys hashing over nuances of language and words that then become a requirement of all government contracts. Long arguments over sentences such as "Contractor will implement reasonable monitoring and oversight procedures to safeguard against assistance being diverted to support terrorist activity".

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Deep-Seated Landslide in Upper Trout Creek, Lewis County

I was doing some landslide evaluation off of aerial imagery. When I focused down on the image below to determine if a bare area was a landslide, I noted that the logging road was criss-crossed with arcuate fractures of a large deep-seated slide. 

High view of upper Trout Creek, Lewis County
Red dots denote probable landslide initiation locations (my own designations)
 (image 2009 via USGS)

Close up of the above image with arcuate surface fractures of a deep-seated landslide
 (image 2009 via USGS)

Topographic map of the area (USGS)
Red dots denote recent landslides (my own designations)

I pulled up the Department of Natural Resources FRAP map to see if this deep-seated slide area showed up on the map.

Slope designation map of section showing slide site
The locations shows as a mix of medium stability (green) and stable (white) landforms
outside of designated high hazard areas (Map is WADNR)

Plenty of shallow landslides within landform areas designated as high instability and moderate instability, but this deep-seated unstable area got missed. It would be interesting to see how this landform looks with a better digital elevation model or on the ground.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kudos to Sam Crawford and Whatcom County Parks

After a long haul of process, the Whatcom County Council voted 4-3 approving the the South Fork Nooksack River Park. Over the past 20 years Whatcom County has acquired much of the land on the east side of the South Fork Nooksack River from the Saxon Bridge to the Mosquito Lake Road. Those acquisitions have been via donation, purchase and reconveyance. The park plan applied to four parcels: the Nesset Farm, the Overby Farm and the Galbraith Farm as well as 287 acres of county land that had been under Department of Natural Resources management. All told this will be a 890 acre park.
The motivations behind the land acquisitions have varied. In one case the property owner simply wanted to leave the land his family homestead in intact. Another donor wanted a particular stretch of land to remain forested. Some property was acquired in part for salmon habitat and elk habitat. Some was due to flood reduction programs. Access posed a challenge to part of the land and the county requested that Department of Natural Resources managed land be reconveyed to the county for park purposes.
The land acquisitions have been consistent with several broad but very important county policies: habitat corridor between the Northwest Cascades and the Salish Sea, endangered salmon (the South Fork Chinnok are the most endangered salmon species in the County), flood hazard reduction, and County park planning.

There are plenty of people that worked hard to get these lands into public ownership. The former private property owners themselves assisted greatly making this park work. The Whatcom County tax payers certainly should be given credit for supporting a conservation tax levee that provided the funds to acquire the land and develop it as a park. The Whatcom Land Trust cobbled together and aided greatly in putting together some of the exchanges. So, Why call out kudos to one council member?  Well lots of people deserve kudos, but this park was approved by a 4-3 vote. Pete Kremen, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann all voted for the park. But that was expected. Sam Crawford's vote in favor of this park was expected as well. Did not surprise me one bit. It is entirely consistent with Sam's ongoing support of public lands.

Regular readers of Reading the Washington Landscape may recall Sam Crawford's leadership regarding support for the San Juan National Conservation Area HERE and HERE. But here is why I think Sam Crawford should be called out for extra credit for the South Fork park. We live in a society where we readily break into our tribal camps. We tend to assign various political leaders into a tribe. Sam Crawford 's tribe is a property rights tribe - they are not very keen on land use planning or development regulations. But something to think about: Maybe that type of thinking can be off set by supporting public land and the stewardship of that public land for community benefit. Maybe if we had more land in public ownership, we would not need to have so many land use rules. Maybe Sam Crawford sees a better path.

Regardless of the above tribal speculation, I know this: There would be no South Fork Park plan without Sam Crawford. 

Returning Empties to the Powder River Basin

I really did not go looking for this video of a coal train. I was doing a bit of research on the railroad tunnel in Everett for a work project and came across a web page with a set of train videos. This clip is of a coal train on the return to the Powder River Basin heading over Stevens Pass in the Cascade Range. This route utilizes the longest rail tunnel in the United Sates, a remarkable seven mile long spiral straight tunnel that replaced a previous steeper poorly vented tunnel and prior to that a track that required switch backs and was susceptible to avalanches. The Stevens Pass route is apparently too steep of a grade to handle the fully loaded coal trains, but at least some of the empty coal trains head back to the Powder River Basin via this route. I did not count all the cars. I'll save that for when I am waiting at a crossing.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Swift Creek Landslide Workshop

Swift Creek with dredge sediment along bank

Yesterday was spent at the University of British Columbia at the 3rd Annual Asbestos Workshop: Scientific Issues Associated with the Swift Creek Landslide and it impact on the Sumas River Watershed System.

First a few notes: the Swift Creek Landslide is a huge problem for the local county government, Whatcom County, its a huge problem for the land owners in the vicinity of the slide and is a major threat to the most intensive agricultural land in Canada. Lots of angles to this problems and the information at the workshop leaves a great deal to digest.

Still Considering the Source: Another Year of Morphometry at the Swift Creek Landslide.
Scott  Linneman,  Prof. Dept. Geology, Western Washington University
Scott Linnemann started us off with the current conditions on the slide and the questions he has been working on regrading the slide activity and monitoring. Based on his work the overall slide movement rate of the entire slide mass is on the order of 3 meters per year. Check out the movie landscapeobservatory/landslideCamTimeLapse
Preliminary sediment load and concentrations estimates from the Sumas River, April 2011 - April 2012. Chris Magirl, Research Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Tacoma WA.  
Chris Magril presented the struggles of estimating sediment loads from the slide at downstream locations. Measurements estimate 16,000 metric tons per year passing down the Sumas River. However, he noted capturing the extreme peak loads of turbidity has been difficult. He has also measured pH in Swift Creek of 9.1 with one reading this past April reaching 9.47.

Attempts to quantify Sediment Loads in Swift Creek.
Paul Pittman,  Earth Sci. Manager, Element Solutions, Bellingham
Paul Pittman presented his struggles with estimating sediment loads in the upper alluvial fan below the slide area. His work is an attempt to quantify the sediment loads both as turbid and sand, gravel and cobbles for sizing possible sediment capture basins. I visited his sampling site in April and observed the rocks bouncing through the constructed weir.
Sediment sampling weir at Swift Creek

Spatial & Temporal Changes in Water, Bed-Sediments, Suspended Sediments and Biofilms in the Swift Creek/Sumas River System.
Hans Schreier, and Julie Wilson, Faculty of Land & Food Systems, UBC.
This presentation had an intriguing observation that discharge on the Sumas River has been steadily increasing since the 1950s even though rainfall amounts have been very even and shown no increase. Schreier and Wilson also noted that the settling rate of the very fine sediment decreasing further downstream and that the pH decreases and Ca% decrease. We also learned about the challenges of testing biofilm development in a dynamic sediment environment and got an explanation of what those plate like features were that some us had observed in the creek.

How to measure Zeta-potential in sediment.
Beini Xu, Dept. Environmental Engineering, UBC
Beini Xu introduced us to zeta-potential in sediment. Presenting how polar like charges develop along the outer edges of
Beini Xu introduced us to zeta-potential and its role in brucite formation, one of the asbestos form minerals in the Swift Creek sediments. Understanding zeta potential is fundamental in understanding how and why the bructie develops along a curved spiral as well as an understanding of flocculation and brucite alteration.

Surface Characteristics of Asbestos fibers and Flocculation.
Les Lavkulich, & Hans Schreier. Profs. Faculty of Land & Food Systems, UBC
With our basics of zeta potential Les Lavkulich and Hans Schreier helped us through an understanding of the asbestos type fibers most common in the Swift Creek sediment. But more importantly some of the basics on controls for flocculation rates and noted that there are chemical/biologic controls as the sediment moves through different parts of the watershed.

Surface chemical properties of Chrysotile in the Sumas Watershed, before and after treatment with organic acids.
Emma Holmes, MSc. Candidate, Land & Food Systems, UBC
Emma Holmes gave us a bit of an overview of some of the mechanics at a molecular level that makes asbestos in the lungs such a nasty business. She also noted that chrysotile asbestos has a relatively short half life relative to amphibole asbestos 0.3 to 11 days compared to 500 days. After organic acid treatment, her studies indicated that the magnesium was heavily stripped from the outer layer of the brucite. Her work suggests that there may be some methods to reduce the toxicity of the fibers.

Organic acids and mixing zone

Progress in accelerating carbon sequestration within serpentine-rich materials. 
Ian  Power and  Prof. Gregg Dipple, Dept. of Geological Sciences, UBC
Ian Power has been evaluating CO2 sequestration at mine tailing sites rich in serpentine-rich sediments. Again the focus is on the controlling factors. For example Are there ways that to design mine tailing piles that will absorb CO2 more rapidly? Kind of nice to think of the Swift Creek landslide as a great CO2 sink. He and coworkers estimate that the mine tailings at Clinton Creek, BC have absorbed 160,000 tons of CO2. 

Comparison of methods assessing asbestos levels in soils at the Sumas Mountain                                    Asbestos Site.
The sequestration of CO2 by the reaction Mg2SiO4 (Mg Olivine) (or one could you ather Magnesium silicates such as brucite) + 2CO2 ---> 2MgCO3 (magnesite) + SiO2.  See Danae and others (2009) for an over view of site selection and Koukouzas and others (2009) for a bench study.  
Bill Barrett , US-EPA Cincinnati and Julie Wroble,US_EPA, Seattle.
Julie Wroble noted that activity based asbestos air sampling is very expensive and discussed other sampling methods to equate soil asbestos levels to the risk of air route impacts to people. The testing was done on a residential property recently purchased by Whatcom County adjacent to the creek.

One of the testing sites used

All in all a very informative mix of science coming at all sorts of angles.
One final note, everyone was greatly appreciative of Tom Westergreen. Without Tom access to the site would have very limited and complicated. His cooperation and support of many of the study efforts by allowing easy access to the site has made progress on the challenge possible, but he also puts a human face on the challenges that the Swift Creek landslide and creek presents to the public. Part of the plus of this gathering was the discussions in the van on the way up to UBC and back that included lots of interetsing forest and Sumas Mountain history from Tom. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Abandoned Burlington Northern Line in Washtucna Coulee

Lots of discussion regarding trains in Washington State of late with the coal terminal schemes and how the coal will travel to the various sites. The coal will not be traveling on this route:

Grain elevator in Washtucna Coulee
Near turn off to Palouse Falls

This particular railroad route has an excellent gradient as it follows the former path of the Palouse River palouse-falls-remarkable-falls. However, with the dams on the Snake River the primary product in this area, wheat, is now shipped via barge along the river. Numerous large ports for storing and loading wheat line the river and many of the railroads as well as grain elevators have been abandoned.

I am not fully up on the history of the rail lines through Washtucna Coulee, but at one time both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern (the abandoned line in the picture) had tracks following the coulee. The BN line tuned south at Kahlotus and traveled down Devils Canyon devils-canyon-south-of-kahlotus to the Snake River.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sheep in the Vineyard

I had a request for the use of a photograph I posted of the Wallula Gap area. The photo is to be used on a book regarding the Columbia River Treaty. I took the picture at Wallula Vineyards, a remarkable vineyard of that includes a variety of wine grapes. The vineyard has a bit over 800 feet of elevation difference within the vineyard and soils range from wind blown loess, rocky basalt terraces with thin soils and Missoula Flood gravels. The vineyard is irrigated via water pumped up from the Columbia River.

Tracking down the original photograph and other potential pictures I came across a number of other photos from my time at the vineyard. Lots of cool science going on throughout the vineyards including some interesting experimentation. For one variety of grape grown on trellises sheep are used to control grass height and weeds and to maintain the vine growth direction by trimming off low growing shoots. The process turns grass material into readily available fertilizer and greatly reduces labor. The vineyard managers are working to breed small sheep to control the reach of the sheep. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Bit heavy on work load of late and other stuff
I am really pulling for this band. It really is a band.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Asbestos Sediment Piles at Swift Creek

I was out in the Everson/Nooksack area and stopped by the lower reach of Swift Creek. Whatcom County recently purchased a property adjacent to the creek in part to have a location to place dredged sediment from the creek in an effort to keep a road open. The following picture is the view of the most recent sediment pile from the former home site.

Dredged sediment near Swift Creek east of Nooksack, WA

The juxtaposition of the swing set and a large pile of asbestos containing silt and sand suggests that this purchase of land avoided more than simply a county stream crossing problem.

The volume of asbestos laden sediment that has been pile up along the creek the past few years is at a remarkable scale. The sediment will continue to come down the creek. 

Ridges of dredged sediment along Swift Creek viewed from South Pass Road

Swift Creek from Oat Cole Road bridge 

Cloudy water from very fine grained clay

Not all of the sediment is deposited and then dredged from the creek. Fine silt and clay continues to be carried downstream into the very slow meandering Sumas River. The Sumas flows north into Canada where the silt and clay poses problems to drainage in the farm land of the lower Sumas valley. The Canadian section of the Sumas River was formerly a lake and the maintenance of that lake requires pumping. The sediment loads cause problems for the pumps as well as the overall drainage systems of this high quality farm land.

View of Swift Creek and Sumas Mountain, the source of the asbestos sediment within the Swift Creek landslide

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mima Mound Cross-Sections

I had some work last week in southwest Washington and took a little side trip to check out some prairies. I did the same thing during another trip this winter. Both trips involved getting very wet and very cold not only in my paid work but in my efforts to learn a little bit about this landscape that more typically is passed through on Interstate 5 with few or no stops. But on both trips I did get to see cross-sections of Mima Mounds. The first was an intentional cutting into a mound on the Mima Prairie that both Dave Tucker and Pat Pringle had alerted me to. 

Mima mound conveniently cut through showing the very thick organic soil (black) over non organic (tan) glacial outwash

Odd pocket of non organic soil surrounded by organic soil

Closer view of topsoil contact and the poorly sorted sediment

I checked out the pebbles to see the general makeup of the sediment. This area is a little outside my usual haunts so I am not sure what is typical glacial outwash composition in this area. Definitely saw andesite suggesting a Cascade volcanic source, but also saw greenstone and granite. Too nasty to site and do careful point counts. 

Purply andesite pebble

Metamorphic and granite pebbles

Back in January I spotted a cut through mound at Rocky Prairie. At this site the Douglas fir were invading the prairie.

Douglas fir capped mound cut by road

Same over thick organic layer of mixed organic silts and pebbles

I had a couple of theories regarding the mounds that I wanted to test out. I successfuly tested my theories. The theories failed the tests. More on the mounds at some future date.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Woodson Landslides

While going over aerial images of landslides in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington I spotted a set of landslides as I scrolled from one research/project area to another. The December 2007 storm that impacted northwest Oregon and southwest Washington caused a slide that closed US Highway 30 between Portland and Astoria. Several landslides and floods of debris and water impacted a the hamlet of Woodson, Oregon during the storm. Approximately a week later, a much larger slide and resulting debris poured down the mountainside closing the highway and destroying homes. No one was killed as there was a warning issued regarding the pending failure.

Beyond my own work on some slide damaged sites in northeast Oregon from that storm, I only knew that the slide associated with the highway closure was related to an old road via the news. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) did a forensic-like investigation of the landslides and events that led up to the slides.

ODF_Rpt_07_Debris_Flow_Eilertsen_Crk_Woodson.pdf and

The studies are well detailed and contain great images of the slide sites and explains as well as possible the sequence of slide events as well as the underlying geology and history of slides in the area. Within the past year fairly good resolution images have been released showing many of the landslide areas. I marked up some of the images of the Woodson slide area.
Aerial of Woodson area showing some of the 2007 landslide locations and steep drainage

This was not the first time that slides had impacted the Woodson site. Woodson is located at the base of a steep mountain slope with steep incised drainages. And the December 2007 storm packed a lot of rain over a short time. It was an intense rainfall event and thousands of landslides took place in southwest Washington and a lesser but still significant damaging slides took place in northwest Oregon.

Slides at upper Olsen Creek above Woodson

As can be seen in the images, multiple slides took place above Woodson. Residents indicated that multiple surges of flood water came down the mountainside during the storm. In the case of Olsen Creek, there were several small shallow slides within the headwall area of the creek drainage. As the slide material flows down the drainage it picks up debris and bulks up as it heads down the creek ravine.
Source area of large slide

The really big slide that impacted Woodson took place nearly a week after the storm. Two slides took place in the headwater area: one was a shallow surface failure associated with an old deep-seated landslide, and the second was associated with a reactivated deep-seated slide. These slides took place during the storm, but the material from these slides did not reach the bottom of the hill during the storm event. The slides path down the drainage was blocked by an old forest railroad grade. The railroad had originally been constructed as a trestle across the creek, but was later filled such that it was a 60-foot high embankment with a couple of culvert pipes passing underneath. The slides plugged the culverts and the loose fill embankment tuned into a temporary dam that lasted about one week. When the embankment collapsed a slurry of mud and logs poured down to Woodson. Fortunately, this potential trouble spot was recognized before the failure took place and residences were evacuated.

Geologists will readily say that if you have steep mountain slopes that occasionally get whacked with big rain fall events there will be landslides. Beyond that landslides and how to deal with this risk moves into the policy arena and politics as well.

One of the ODF papers includes a section at the end with recommendations. One recommendation was regarding development regulations. Despite a history of debris flows at this site and other nearby sites, there were no development regulations regarding building in these obvious geologic hazardous areas. For the most part, Washington State counties recognize geology hazards such as these.

The ODF report had some other recommendations as well and discusses the dilemma of managing large tracts of steep forest land for timber harvests versus public safety. What was not mentioned in the recommendations was fish, but that may be due to these streams not being salmon bearing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Southwest Washington Prairie Camas and Strawberries

I had some work in southwest Washington the past few couple of days. Very wet and cold. There is not much rain shadow effect in that area and hence the rain was a bit heavy and it was windy with temperatures in the 40s. Despite the cold and wet I did stop by one of the southwest Washington prairies prairies-and-puget-ice-lobe.

Blue camas


The southwest Washington prairies have shrunk over the past 200 years, but were at one time utilized heavily by First Nations peoples for camas harvest, strawberries and a variety of other edible plants as well as grazing land for deer and elk indian-population-camas-and-prairie. I stopped at Mima Prairie last fall geologic-pilgrimage-mima-mounds and visited Rocky Prairie this last winter. While passing by the prairie pictured above I stopped to check out the spring flowers despite my semi pickled condition from filed work in the rain. It would be nice to enjoy this prairie in spring sunshine, but no luck this time. Or better yet experience the strawberries as Charles Wilkes did during his passing through the area in the 1841.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Imbricate Bedding and Frisbee Cobbles

I was walking along a cobble river bar and started noting the subtle alignment of cobbles on the surface. It is subtle and I found it hard to capture through a picture, but what I was observing was imbricate bedding.
Subtle alignment of cobbles

Imbricate bedding (Wikipedia)

Seeing this alignment got me thinking about measuring clasts in metamorphic conglomerate rocks. I spent a fair bit of time measuring and recording x, y, and z axis of cobbles in an attempt to determine strain on a past project. The first place I did this the rock was highly stretched with cobbles taking on an almost New York hot dog shape. But at another site many of the cobbles appeared flattened. And keep in mind finding metamorphic cobbles embedded in a formation where all three axis can be measured is not very easy. In looking at the cobbles I was traversing, I began wondering about the statistical significance of those measurements in particular given that initial roundness ought not to be assumed.

The above cobble in a metamorphic rock would give the impression of flattening strain.

Besides measuring strain, though the original alignment of non round cobbles like the one above can be used to determine flow direction. I have only applied this approach once on a project involving a gravel mine deposit.

Not only cobbles show imbricate bedding.