Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Not So Bad Whidbey Bluff

I took a short extra hike down a beach on the east side of Whidbey Island as the tide was way out.

A few notes on this very high and steep bluff. Although steep enough to be a bit off putting this bluff has some positive aspects geologically. First, the bluff material is all highly compacted glacial drift sediment or glacial advance outwash. It stands up so steep because it so hard and compacted and is almost concrete like. Note also the vegetation growing at the toe of the steep slope and on the upper beach. This indicates that waves and salt water very rarely reach the toe of this slope (at least of late). Hence, water erosion at this bluff has been very low. I suspect that the current main bluff erosion force on this slope in recent years has been freeze and thaw causing the outer layers to ravel off or stones to pop off the bluff face adding to the well nourished beach.

So, a not so bad bluff. There certainly are worse bluff sites on Whidbey Island.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Notes on Lake Whatcom Stormwater Infiltration

I had a geology hazard assessment project that took me out to the Lake Whatcom watershed east of Bellingham. Dug a few test pits with some interesting results. Not completely unexpected, but not expected either. Besides the geology I got a chance to check out some of the ways home builders have addressed stormwater in this sensitive watershed.
Probable glacial drift
A policy vote took place in the Lake Whatcom watershed last week. The County Council passed new updated development regulations to minimize potential phosphorus run off from new development in the watershed. A fair bit of the new language was simply clarification of existing regulations and got rid of some exemptions. The goal: any new development will not release phosphorus from the site at levels greater than natural background conditions. Lake Whatcom has dissolved oxygen issues that are linked to excess phosphorus inputs.
The County has made several upgrades to stormwater regulations in the Lake Whatcom watershed in the past. However, previous efforts were done without the mandated phosphorus pollution reduction requirements that are required through the Clean Water Act being implemented by the Washington State Department of Ecology.
There was some interesting dialog on phosphorus sources and how Ecology has approached this problem during the debate before the new rules were voted on that might be worth a post, but in the end the simplest approach to phosphorus in stormwater is to get the stormwater  into the ground versus having it run off the site and that is in fact the primary goal of the new regulations and really not significantly different than what was already required. 
Infiltration of stormwater is often an easy thing to do on large lots, but it gets tougher on small lots or lots with soils that are resistant to infiltration. Thought ahead of time on design and layout will make it easier and save a lot of money. Stormwater infiltration is not unique to Lake Whatcom and if stormwater is considered at the very beginning of the design phase for a home versus as an after thought, costs will be much less or one can avoid major redesigns or complicated engineered stormwater treatment facilities.
While getting the lay of the land for my geology assessment, I observed numerous driveway projects that had been installed to meet the existing stormwater rules on small lots. Pervious pavement surfaces all designed to get stormwater into the ground versus delivering phosphorus via soil particles and organic material carried by surface water flow.
New pervious concrete 
Pervious pavers

Pervious pavers

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day Trip to Artist Point

Will and I took our visiting friend from New York up to the end of Highway 542 in the North Cascades of Whatcom County. The road ends at Artist Point a high pass between the Nooksack drainage on the north and the Baker River drainage on the south. The road end is located between Mount Shuksan to the east and Mount Baker on the west. And there are other great peak views in the distance. We took a short hike out to Coleman Pinnacle enjoying sun and a light breeze that kept the flies in check. 

Mount Shuksan
Shuksan is a 9,000-foot plus summit of metamorphic rock that is part of the Northwest Cascades 

Summit of Mount Baker - the latest version of a volcanic center in this part of the North Cascades is a 10,000-foot strato volcano 

In between the summits of Baker and Shuksan is the remnants of a very violent eruptive center exposed in the incised headwaters of Swift Creek which drains towards Baker Lake in the distance

To get a grasp of the scale and intensity of that event it would be useful to take a field trip with the guy in the red vest:

Dave Tucker happened to be leading a field right where we began our hike

 Driving back down the mountain slopes we stopped to admire the columnar jointing.

Between Kendal and Deming the Racehorse Creek landslide was lit in a manner that stood out well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lorquin's Admiral

Limenitis lorquini lorquini

Earlier in July, Five Acre Geographic did a write up on Lorquins admiral (lorquins-legacy July 4 post) as well as the butterfly's namesake. A few days later I encountered several dozen Lorquin's Admirals while hiking back to my point of origin along a road through a Douglas fir-western hemlock-western red cedar.

Route where I saw the butterflies

The day was sunny but cool, and outside the protection of the forest very windy. For the most part the butterflies appeared to be sunning themselves on the road surface and gave me a chance to sneak close for a few decent pictures.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Less Fog in Bellingham

I started a post that I titled "Fog Free Bellingham", but this morning let me down as Bellingham turned foggy after I woke up this morning.

GOES WEST at 8:00 this morning

As can readily be seen, the Pacific Ocean off our coast is foggy. With an onshore push of air the fog rolls in through the low gaps south of the Olympics, flows up the Columbia River and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This morning it partly filled into Puget Sound and had pushed up into the mountain valleys of the Cascades. By 11 this morning the fog was gone from all but the outer coast.

GOES WEST at 11:45 this morning

Yesterday the surge of fog was thicker and lingered longer, but Bellingham was fog free.

GOES WEST July 22, 2013, 12:00 pm

Cliff Mass had a nice write up on why the fog was so thick and wet last Saturday in Puget Sound, July 20, 2013 (cliffmass.blogspot). But Bellingham was mostly fog free Saturday. 

GOES WEST image via Cliff Mass

Both the Saturday image via Dr. Mass and the one I pulled up from Monday show Bellingham (my town) fog free. I left off labeling the images assuming the reader will know or can figure out where Bellingham is.

Bellingham being fog free in the summer is one of the peculiar micro climates of western Washington. The stratus clouds push in during the evening and night and filled in essentially the entire western Washington low land except Bellingham. This is commonly the case for Bellingham (but not this morning). While walking to work on Monday I could see the fog bank just to the west of town, but we were sunny all day while to the south the lowlands were in the gloom. 

I suspect Bellingham's less frequent fog has to do with the local topography. There is essentially a mountain range extending from the Cascades out into the San Juan Islands just south and west of Bellingham. The range is by no means a solid mountain front, and the peaks are modest in height compared to the Cascades and Olympics, but they are high enough to distrupt the low level air flow. And even when the fog does penetrate into Bellingham, Bellingham is on the edge of the fog with the nearby slopes fog free and thus the fog burns off in Bellingham sooner than cities to the south that are further distance from the fog edge.

I have not done a statistical analyses of this observation. But have experienced the difference often enough to be convinced. The fog issue is of some note to my work. I will sometimes fly to the San Juan Islands, and learned from experience to check the weather before heading to the airport as in the summer the airports in the San Juans will be fogged in while the sun shines in Bellingham. And even between downtown Bellingham and the airport (where the Bellingham weather station is located) there is often a fog bank as the airport is located out away from the Chuckanut Range that abuts the rest of Bellingham.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Homeless Landscape

I visited a proposed redevelopment project site that involved some early stage recon work. The site is fully within a city and has been within the city for well over 75 years. The site was previously developed, but the original development has been long gone and the site has been vacant for at least 30 years. That said, the site has been and is being utilized as residential property - just not the kind planners typically think of.

The site has lots of cover and is hidden, but being in the city has access to services. I was fairly sure I would encounter some encampments at this site before going. I have learned to recognize the features that attract the homeless. This site was better than others I have seen and in the summer not so rough. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tempertaure Gradient form Quilcene to Port Townsend

Gravel/cobble beach, Toandos Peninsula with view of Olympics
I took a hike around Oak Head at the south end of the Toandos. It was a hot hike along the heated up gravel and cobbles with the temperature in the mid 80s. The 500-foot climb back up to the road brought a good sweat. 
I have noted before that this is a bit of a hot spot for western Washington. A comparison of weather stations:

               Average Maximum Temperatures
                                        June   July   August  Sept.
Seattle                              69      72       73         67
Port Townsend             66      70       71         67
Bellingham                     66      71       72         68
Quilcene                          72      77      79         73

Quilcene (near Oak Head) is significantly warmer than my town of Bellingham as well as Seattle during the summer. The name Oak Head at the south end of the Toandos might be in reference to the fact that there is a fair bit of poison oak on the exposed slopes - I have not dug deep enough into the original naming.

After my hike I headed up to the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and experienced a big temperature gradient in a few miles. On the Strait a strong marine flow was blowing through the strait and the temperature was much cooler requiring a sweater. A kite boarder in a dry suite was taking advantage of the gale.

Catching wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Whidbey Island and Mount Baker in the distance

This sculpted tree suggest that the wind is a regular part of life on this shore

Wave and water erosion are not the only force acting on shoreline bluffs. This bluff slope was actively being eroded during my visit with sand flowing down the slope and accumulating in a pile at the top of the beach.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Juniper Maritima North of Eastsound

I am still spotting Juniperus maritima catching-up-with-juniperus-maritima and noting locations.

I spotted this large mature juniper north of Eastsound. Adams (2007) cored some of the more mature trees he had seen elsewhere and noted that they predated European settlement. This tree is clearly not in a wild setting, but has been here a long time. It is about a half mile from the shore growing in soil derived from glacial marine drift. Outside the developed areas the forest in this area is the usual western Washington mix, but does have a fair bit of lodge pole pine and occasional Sitka Spruce. Historically this low area was likely partially maintained as prairie prior to European settlement.

One possible additional advantage of this spot is it is subject to strong winds both from the south and from the north as the wind is funneled between low mountains to the west and east of the low area where Eastsound is located.

Notes From Bellingham to Orcas Flight

I had a project on Orcas Island and this time I took the short flight from Bellingham to Orcas - saves a fair bit on project costs as this was a one project trip.

Over the past few years the Bellingham Airport has changed a lot. As my small plane flight was early I got a vie of the Aliegiant fleet of jets that use Bellingham. Aliegiant's schemes in Bellingham have been very successful and have also drawn Alaska to increase service to Bellingham. Mostly the flights are inexpensive routes to sunny places and are drawing lots of Canadian travelers from the lower BC mainland metro areas. The huge increase of use at the airport is also driving some large motel/hotel schemes.

In our small plane we were well above the ground well before the end of the runway. The above is a view of the slowly degrading cross-wind runway. The grass-covered to the left of the runway is a capped woodwaste landfill. The Port allowed Georgia-Pacific to dispose woodwaste at the site for many years. I used to sample groundwater and landfill gas at the site. The gray area in the middle is a stormwater system. It used to be a forested wetland, but has been altered for managing stormwater run off from the airport site.

Just west of the airport is a good view of one of those landscapes that is not rural or urban that took a few rounds planning and Growth Management Hearings Board rulings against Whatcom County. A tough planning area.

Flights from Bellingham to the San Juan Islands always provide great views of the Nooksack River delta. Gave me another chance to see how the massive log jam has been progressing. One of the main channels has been completely filled with logs and now vegetation is starting to grow on the log jam.

Lummi Island and Lummi Peak on the right, Lummi Peninsula and Portage Island on the left separated by Hale Passage.

Rosario Strait is the wide and deep straight on the east side of the San Juan Islands. It is the inbound shipping route for ships heading to Vancouver's ports and the industrial piers in Whatcom County. This strait was Great Britain's proposed border between Canada and the United States that was rejected by Kaiser Wilhelm (borderlines-and-oregon-country).

Approaching Orcas from the north provides a great view of the northwest plunging anticline of Sucia Island and the folded Chuckanut Formation and a chunk of Naniamo Group on the southwest.

A reef of rock, Parker Reef, shows up in the water just north of Orcas Island. The rock is mostly covered during high tide. The aligned bedding plains are easily seen. The rock is Naniamo Group and the reef is part of the San Juan Island National Wildlife Area.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lage Wernstedt Article by Geof Childs

John Scurlock forwarded this worthwhile read about one giant of the early days of the United States Forest Service in Washington State by Geof Childs. I really like the historic photographs included in the article.

And if you have note seen John Scurlock's work it is well worth the time to alter your perspective on vast parts of the Washington landscape

Monday, July 15, 2013

Redwoods on the Toandos

Near the southern end of the Toandos Peninsula along Hood Canal I came across a tree I did not recognize. Clearly a type of pine tree. There were numerous pines of the same species, but these were trees not native to the western Washington low land forests as far as I knew.

Trunk of unidentified pine


 Blurry view of a cone and note the better focusses carpet of needles

I had not previously been in this valley, but had been told that the site had at one time been an experimental forest. Hence, the pines. Initially I did not notice any other species. The forest was the usual mix of red alder, western red cedar, Douglas fir, western hemlock, and big leaf maple. But there were the occasion grand firs and even a Sitka spruce. So clearly some variety. Except for the strange pines though, nothing realy unusual. Well not until I spotted this tree:

This tree is a coastal redwood. It had the classic red spongy bark. Once I saw one I noted that there were numerous redwoods in the stand. They appeared healthy. But they are well outside their natural range. There are park specimens - one is located on the State Capitol campus and there is another growing along Ainsworth Street in Tacoma and I am sure there are others.

The natural range of these trees is very restricted to the coastal mountains of northern California to slightly north of the California border. Their natural red provides lots of rain, but also long dry stretches with summer fog and moderate temperatures. The climate on the Toandos is not so different than the north coast of California, but the tree competition is intense and that competition may be why the redwoods never expanded northward into Washington State.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cave in Gravel Pit and Iron/Manganese Coated Pebbles

I recently visited a cave within a gravel bed that had been unearthed at a small gravel pit. Caves and gravel pits are not a very consistent association so when I heard about the cave from a local, I figured it would be worth a visit.

Cave within gravel pit wall

View of the inside of the cave

The cave appeared to go back approximately 15 to 20 feet. The pit operator indicated that the cave appeared after they had recently excavated along this wall of the pit. He reported that it appeared water had blown out of the side of the pit over night. The pit is located within an area that was recently mapped as Vashon ice contact kames and kame deltas by Polenz and others (2012). The site is on the east side of the Olympic mountains near Hood Canal. The mapping as well as observations I have made in this area indicates that there was a sediment accumulation area along the margins of the Puget Ice Lobe during the last glaciation. The gravel beds shown are classic delta front gravel deposits which are very common in this area (although the exact delta settings does vary).

The pit operator indicated that the floor of the pit was underlain by hard pan that was like concrete which suggests glacial till. The tilted sand and gravel units along with some topographic features suggests that a zone of perched saturated sand and gravel was located in the side of the pit. When the water pressure blew out into the excavation the saturated sand and gravel flowed with it leaving a temporary cave. The very short duration of water flow suggests it was an isolated zone of perched groundwater versus the draining of a larger aquifer (although rare, that has happened in other gravel mines - not good).

Another noteworthy feature was the abundance of iron/manganese coated pebbles. Perhaps not a rare thing, but not something I had previously encountered in such abundance.

Iron/manganese coated pebbles and cobbles
Past water movement through these gravels must have been rich in metals and the metal precipitated onto the pebble surfaces.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Red Crossbills

Dave Wenning has a nice write up on a favorite bird red-crossbills-of-gibralter-road.

My first encounter with red crossbills was on a landslide site on Orcas Island. The landslide was a bedrock failure within a tectonic shear zone. Most of the rock on the slope was very competent and very hard, but a sliver of the shear zone had been highly altered to clay even though it retained all the features of rock. The clay was impermeable and hence, created a perched water zone on the steep slope that was in part why the slope was failing, but was also a spot of spring water flow in an otherwise dry area. As such it was and still is a great bird location as forest birds would come visit the drips of water. It was at this location I saw my first red crossbill. A spectacular brilliant red with a crazy, but effective, beak. The site drew lots of other birds that are not often seen, but the red crossbill was the most exciting. I have visited the site since just to watch various birds normally heard in the forest but not seen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Carbon in the Dirt

A guest editorial Carbon Dioxide Under Our Feet in the Seattle Times reminded me that carbon in soil is no small thing.

While we look at the massive trees that grow in parts of our Washington landscape as taking up CO2, it is easy to forget that a lot of CO2 end up in the soil. By way of example even in western Washington prairie soils have thick organic rich zones that extend well below the surface relative to forested areas. 

Thick carbon rich soil in Mima mound in southwest Washington prairie
Montgomery and Robinette (Times editorial) mention no till farming as another means to keep CO2 in the soil. This approach is being tried at various places in eastern Washington dry land wheat with early results comparable to non till approaches and in some cases significantly lower costs. Certainly it has been demonstrated to work, but does represent a profound shift in how farming is done. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bolton IV: Non Glacial River Deposits

I previously started a series of posts on the south end of the Bolton Peninsula bolton-peninsula-introductionbolton-peninsula-ii-notes-on-twin-river, and bolton-peninsula-iii-tilted-alluvial.

LiDAR of south Bolton

The Twin Rivers Formation makes up the steep bluff slope on the western most part of the LiDAR with the tilted alluvial and glacial deposits located along the area of the bluff just to the left, west of the the first valley.

I do have a theory as to the valley. At the valley the sediments abruptly become horizontal and at least in appearance appear to consist of sediment from the last glacial period. If so, the valley was there before the last glacial period and was partially filled by glacial deposits. I have not been up in the valley to test the theory - so theory only at this point.
Whereas the sediments west of the valley are strongly tilted east of the both valley systems the sediments are much less tilted to not tilted at all. There are some glacial related sediments between the two valleys shown on the LiDAR, but east of the sharp narrow valley is an outstanding exposure of older alluvial deposits.   

The exposure of old alluvial sediments runs for approximately 1,000 feet along the shoreline and the bluff is on the order of 200 feet high. The steep bluff itself is relatively stable except for shallow surface failures. Significant reaches of this bluff have recently been stripped of vegetation from a low angle landslide at the top of the bluff that is sending material cascading over the cliff to the beach below. It is a big low angle landslide. I measured one section of failing slope above the shoreline cliff with an angle of 12 degrees.
The bluff consists of alluvial sediment with alternating gravel and cobble units and fine grained silts as well as peat units. All the material is very hard and compact and the peat units suggest that a least a significant portion of this alluvial sequence was deposited during a non glacial interval.    

Silt overlain by gravel with an intervening carbon rich layer

Layer of peat - a mat of compacted organics

More peat

The cobbles and gravel are a wide mix of material. I noted lots of andesite cobbles which caused me to think of the unit as being deposited by the Great Puget River. That is a river that would have been derived from all the west of the Cascades rivers gathered into one mighty river. Nice idea, but there are a number of alternative explanations - reworked glacial sediments being one of them.

Lots of puzzles to work out and one exposure will not solve the puzzle, but it is a great exposure. Birdseye indicated the presence of a older glacial drift unit on this bluff, but I could not confirm its presence at least in this section.

My interpreting and arm waving about this bluff exposure was secondary for my main purpose of being there. I was checking out the bluff because of the huge landslide that has been slipping over the past few years and expanded greatly this past winter. Another story.

Large scale landslides in the woods are hard to photograph