Saturday, November 29, 2014

Zintel Canyon Trash Wrack

Zintel Canyon is a ravine incised down through a thick ice-age flood terrace in Kennewick. The stream has a rather large drainage area in the Horse Heaven Hills, and poses a bit of a flood risk to the neighborhoods below where the canyon opens up. The Army Corp of Engineers constructed a flood control dam zintel-canyon-dam where the canyon passes through one of the northern ridges in the Horse Heavens.
Downstream where the canyon opens up onto the low ground between the canyon mouth and the Columbia River the creek enters a large culvert to pass under streets. A trash wrack to catch debris has been built at the culvert entrance. 
Trash wrack at 7th and Vancouver

A trail has been constructed up the canyon. The year round stream with thickets of brush and Russian olive and cottonwoods is an oasis in this area with less than 8 inches of rain per year. As urbanization has taken place it has become an oasis of a bit of wildness in the urban landscape.

The flow in the stream is enhanced by recharge by irrigation water and the City of Kennewick has been working on schemes to further recharge the aquifer. At the lower end of the stream near the Columbia River Kennewick has drinking water wells. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Safe Travels and a Bit More Music

The Thanksgiving tradition blog post with Lisa Hannigan. Also some Angus and Julia Stone. Perhaps a bit of a melancholy theme to this selection.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Slope Fractures Before the Nile Landslide of 2009

DEM of Sanford Pasture Landslide
A landslide on the Naches River west of Yakima in 2009 diverted the Naches River and closed a State Highway. That slide was a very small part of a much older ancient massive landslide, the Sanford Pasture Landslide. The part that failed was a small section on the northwest end of the larger ancient landslide complex.

Sliding Thought Blog put up a nice post about the Sanford Pasture Landslide HERE. Alas, the posts at Sliding Thought have been discontinued - sensitive higher ups in the agency depriving us landslide wonks of some excellent insights.

When pulling some images together for a talk I decided to include a note on the Sanford Pasture Landslide simply because it was so large. It surpasses the huge Church Mountain Slide in Whatcom County and is much larger than the more famous Bridge of the Gods slide in the Columbia River Gorge. When pulling historic aerials together, I noted that the set of historic images captures the development of the fracture that began to form several years before the slide. The fracture was noticed by the Department of Natural Resources prior to the slope failure.

Pre facture image from 1998 with rock quarry in lower central part of image

Fracture can be seen on the steep slope on upper right in this 2009 image

2010 post slope failure with diverted river
WDOT has a lengthily post slide technical report that compiled lots of information and provides good figures and the geologic interpretations as well as assessment of the current stability of the slide area (NileValleyLandslidegeotechnicalreport.pdf).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wetlands, Farmland and Drainage on the Nooksack Flood Plain

Before our November sunny break I headed north to Lynden and noted the water logged Nooksack River flood plain south of town. 
Nooksack River flood plain south of river and south of Lynden
The river was not flooding. The source of water standing over acres of land was the result of lots of local rain and poor drainage. The silty soils, high ground water and subtle topography cause water to accumulate in the fields.
The DEM of the area shows the problem of drainage on the flood plain - it is essentially uphill to the river.
DEM of Nooksack flood plain

The river is flowing from east to west and is the dark olive green sinuous line in the image. The straight tan line on the west half is Guide Meridian Road. I took the watery picture from my car looking east south of the river. Note that there are broad olive green colored low areas well back from the river both north and south of the river. The two south of the river are linked to the river via narrow streams and ditches that are barely discernible in the image. Otherwise these two low areas are separated from the river by a subtle but definite uphill slope. Each color shade corresponds to 1 meter in elevation.

Without the ability to keep the narrow ditches and stream connections to the river these fields would turn into swamp land or wet lands depending on your word selection. Water on the fields is not a problem in the winter, but if the fields remain wet deep into late spring, the farm land will be of little value.

The Growth Management Act requires counties to protect wetlands; however, there is a recognition that agricultural land should be protected as well. Under the local GMA required regulations Whatcom County critical areas regulations for wetlands allow the maintenance of drainage channels on farm lands. But the work on these drainage channels still requires State permits from the Washington State Department of Wildlife and the work requires a farm conservation plan.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fault Y in the Kittitas Valley

Waitt (1979)  identified three faults cutting across the Kittatas Valley. While the faults do off set Pleistocene sediments of the Thorpe Gravel, no definitive off sets have been identified within younger (last 11,000 years) sediments. The off set of the Thorp Gravel alluvial plain north of Ellensburg can readily be seen in the DEM: 
Fault off set is an east-west fault cutting across the center of the DEM with up to the south 

This DEM has the fault marked in black

There are two other faults. One is closer to Ellensburg and the other towards the north.

The aerial view of the the fault shown above via Google earth:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Random bits of Whidbey Island History

I was digging a bit into the history of the water front area of Oak Harbor related to a project I was working on and came across a couple of unrelated but interesting bits on the history of Whidbey Island by David Wilma at

"The settlers learned to dose deer carcasses with strychnine and the wolves eventually became extinct on Whidbey Island."

A good reminder as to how wide spread wolves were and that returning to some natural condition ecosystem may not be so easy without a top predator keeping the deer population in check.

"Sea Captain Edward Barrington and Charlie Phillips opened a trading post at Oak Harbor in the early 1850s because he did not want to paddle a canoe two days to Olympia for supplies. Barrington became an important intermediary between whites and Indians when disputes arose. Local legend holds that Barrington, a large man with red hair and beard, confronted a group of raiding Northern Indians. Barrington showed the invaders his fear of no one by destroying a nearby Skagit burial canoe and placing a skull on a stick. He then began to dance and then rushed the raiders. They fled in panic and Barrington saved himself and local Skagits from death and enslavement. Northern Indians never again bothered Oak Harbor."

This legend does conjure an entertaining visual impression. What is definitely true is that northern Indians did routinely raid this area and had been for some time including in the 1850s. One of these raids near present day Port Gamble likely played a major role in the outcome of the Yakama War. The U.S. Navy fired on the invading Indians. North Puget Sound and Washington tribes were not receptive to the idea of joining the Yakama War in part due to appreciation of defense from the invading northern Indians. Barrington may have played some role in repelling an attack, but cannon fire from the U.S. Navy likely put an end to the northern Indian raids.   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Notes on Tree Rings, and Old Forests and an Old Terrane on Orcas Island

I came across a couple of blow down trees that had been cut in order to reopen the road that they blocked. Both trees were Douglas fir and the site was on the dryer, western part of Orcas Island. Both trees were growing in very thin to almost non existent soil over Turtleback Complex bedrock. Knowing how old trees are can be helpful in evaluating slopes. In this case the trees were not really important for that purpose, but for other reasons I was curious about the age of the trees so I did tree ring counting.  

As can be seen the rings were very tightly spaced particularly that outer band shown above, but a mid section band was also very closely spaced. I ended up with a count of 220. The tree was much older than I had initially expected at first glance. The modest size by old age reflects the rather harsh growing conditions. The tree was growing out of bedrock with very little soil. Something to consider when trying to estimate the age of trees by girth alone. A few weeks ago I was in a forest of much larger Douglas fir and that stand of trees was less than 60 years old.

No much soil under those roots.

The forest where this tree was located is nearly all Douglas fir, but the trunk sizes varied suggesting a very mixed age. I did observe a few madrones which would suggest the forest canopy may have been more open in the past, but this forest was fairly open even now. Underbrush was very thin and it was easy to move through this forest with a moss dominated floor and very thin brush. All over very thin soils and fractured hard bedrock and solid bedrock - not much in the way of glacial related sediment at this location.

Take a close look at the tree lying on the floor of the forest. This is an old blow down, but it is still very much alive. Two of its limbs have become leaders growing as straight trees out of the trunk. This is a Douglas fir feature I have observed at several other locations on Orcas Island including some spectacular examples on Turtleback Mountain (selection-of-trees-on-orcas-island).

Elsewhere on Orcas I have observed very massive Douglas firs much bigger the 220 year old tree. Hence, I am now very curious about the age of those giants some of which are located on sites with very harsh growing conditions.

This blow down tree has a bit of a story to tell. One thing it shows is that at least at this site the area was not clear cut logged. Historically the San Juan Islands were known for not having particularly good timber relative to much of the rest of western Washington. This particular blow down tree seemed to be straight and not very limby. Perhaps its inland location and challenging site to move logs preempted this forest from being clear cut. The tree also had survived pre European/American land management - it had not been burned by fire. I did not observe any indication of past burn scars anywhere in this particular forest stand.

From a forest species perspective, the dominance of Douglas fir at this location dating back over 200 years is a bit different than nearby forest stands where lodge pole pine (locally called shore pine) are well represented as well as stands of junipers and oaks.

As for the bedrock of this forest. The rocks are part of the Turtleback Complex named for Turtleback Mountain on the west side of Orcas Island. Not supper exciting rocks to look at, but these rocks are very old and have a story to tell for those willing to extract the story out of them via microscopic mineral work and careful measurement of element isotopes.

A bit of Turtleback with the edge of a rock hammer on the right

Turtleback with faint mineral gneiss-like mineral alignment and green minerals (epidote?) with Douglas fir needle for scale.

The Turtleback Complex is one of several tectonic terranes in the Northwest Cascades System-San Juan mélange. Units within the mélange consist of a wide variety of low-grade to high-grade metamorphic rocks of various ages juxtaposed along now extinct tectonic fault lines. The terrains are slices of ocean floor, island arcs and possibly in some cases slices of terrane broken off of other continents and then accreted to the North American western margin via plate tectonic movements.

The Turtleback Complex is the oldest terrain in the San Juan mélange and has been correlated with similar very old rocks in the Northwest Cascades, the Yellow Aster Complex. Vance (1975) suggested the Turtleback was continental. The Turtleback contains a range of igneous rock types with intrusive cross cutting relationships, and I have found a fair bit of variety across the various locations I have encountered the Turtleback. Age of the intrusive rocks have been reported ages ranging from 554 Ma to 460 Ma (Whetten and others, 1978 and Brandon and others, 1988). This a very old terrane and plate tectonics does have some mind bending puzzles and correlating long traveled old terranes with their homeland will take considerable work. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

BNSF Railroad and Unstable Bluffs near Bellingham

In late 2012 and early 2013 there were close to 100 shallow landslides that closed the rail line between Seattle and Everett, Washington due to wet weather and slopes above the railroad tracks becoming repeatedly saturated (railroad-landslide-closures). There was even a landslide that hit a moving train during that period.

The rail line just northwest of Bellingham has not been closed by landslides, but faces a significant risk of landslides in the future as the railroad track runs along the top of a steep eroding shoreline bluff.  

Its worth enlarging this picture to see the failure scarps at several places on the slope as well as a drain pipe installed to reduce water on the slope. 

Railroad without much space 

I routinely assess steep shoreline bluff slopes and recommend setbacks for homes from the top edge of steep shoreline bluffs - this section of railroad would not conform with recommended setbacks. But like homes close to the edge of a potentially unstable slope, the view is great. And I have enjoyed the view from the train while heading up to Vancouver, BC.
 The beach is very narrow at least along parts of the bluff and high water routinely reaches the toe of the slope causing erosion.
Shallow surface failure on bluff

The bluff is underlain by unconsolidated late ice age deposits of silt and clay and sand and gravel. The small slide shown above is the result of the toe of the slope being eroded by waves and then the slide area slowly working its way up the slope.

This reach of shore is exposed to south and west winds and has a large enough fetch and orientation such that large waves can be generated and combined with large storm surges.

A future challenge for the railroad.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Salmon Cannon

If you have not been watching John Oliver's Last Week with John Oliver you should start. The reporting is very in depth and though delivered with ample humor is thought provoking. This clip is a bit of shout out to  a Washington State company Whooshh that has been developing a variety of creative solutions to work in Washington State. 

Managing salmon is a big job and the salmon cannon may reduce the work load, costs and be easier on fish. Salmon are transported around the lower the falls at Whatcom Creek via hand capture, wheel barrow and pipe.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Notes on a Few Favorite Trees and Landscapes on my Commute

Over the years I have had various work commutes - most people do. My current commute is a 3/4 mile walk through my neighborhood and then along a bit of the perimeter of the edge of downtown. Not a bad way of starting the day. 

The tulip tree one block from home

This tulip tree planted long ago in the parking strip has long been a favorite. It is hugely tall for an urban tree within an area of small lots and it is massive. It is rapidly loosing its leaves this week after a fairly good fall show.
Tulip tree and its sequoia companions 

A number of sequoia's were been planted around Bellingham roughly 100 years ago and they have grown to be landmark specimens. This planing strip has two adjacent to the tulip tree.

The next tree, a cottonwood, is one I really enjoy because it likely started out as a volunteer and some how has managed to not be cut down. On windy days I give it a respectful detour as it is now the size that it routinely drops large limbs.

Puget Sound Energy has an electric switch yard that they recently greatly upgraded and are in the early stages of landscape work around the perimeter. I assume they have some strict criteria as to the types of plants and trees - a cottonwood at this location would be a really bad idea.

The laying in of extensive irrigation lines suggests a not very native approach and lots of expense. It would be a great project to replicate the landscape work done at this place cutting-edge-planting-at-padden-estuary. Some hairy manzinita would require much water and would be a nice screen between the street and the electric yard.   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cheers for ESA and Rosetta

Space exploration is a cause of optimism for me. Everything about the ESA mission (Live_updates_Rosetta_mission_comet_landing) should be a cause of celebration. Really remarkable project. If you haven't seen the images from Rosetta and Philae:
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Philae's first panorama

A sense of scale

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day and The Green Fields of France

Originally Veterans Day was Armistice Day celebrating the end of Word War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The day is still a day of remembrance in may nations. In the United States the day was was switched to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all veterans. But is worth recalling a line from Woodrow Wilson's speech to Congress proclaiming Armistice Day, "Hunger does not breed reform; it breeds madness." Something to think about when contemplating Syria (a-note-on-syria-exponential-case-study).

We have entered to century mark since WWI. As time moves on our collective memory gets fuzzy. Its a good time to think back on WWI, but also to think about how we treat are veterans whilst creating more of them every year. Willie McBride was a veteran who did not come home (there were nearly a dozen W. McBrides that did not come home).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Port Discovery: Woodman Marsh and Old Driftwood

I have walked this shore reach a number of times in the past on the way to or from other sites on the coast of Port Discovery. Port Discovery is the large bay west of Port Townsend named by Vancouver for his ship. On this particular day the tide was not ideal for a shore walk as it was covering the entire sand and gravel beach and had reached the grass covered shore of this marsh.

This particular marsh is slowing shifting from wetland marsh to non wetland marsh as soil accumulates and vegetation builds up. The grassy swath along the outer edge is growing on piles of very old drift wood.

A review of historic aerial images shows that many of the along shore marshes of Port Discovery have accumulated large batches of driftwood from past high tides combined with storm surges. Some of the driftwood deposits are over 50 years old and date back to a particularly high tide storm surge event in the 1960s or an even larger and older one in the 1950s. These events caused flooding at low beach areas with lined with homes and hence were recorded in newspapers.

Tidal surge flooded Becket Point in Port Discovery

There may be some other factors regarding wood deposition. One might be the availability of drift wood along the shore. This image of the upper end (south) of the bay suggests a source of driftwood that is not so common today as it once was.

Upper Port Discovery and log rafts.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Random Encounters with Port Townsend's Water System

While on a forest slope above Discovery Bay I heard what I took to be a loud boat out in the water. But it turned out to be a pipe discharging a jet of water into the bay.

When I reached the shore I noted the sound and white water. The rock lined shore is rip rap associated with a former railroad to Port Townsend along the coast on this shore reach.

Water under high pressure shooting out of a steel pipe.

The pipe is a relief pipe for water that supplies Port Townsend with water from the Olympic Mountains. Water for PT is diverted out of the Big Quilcene River and to a lesser extent the Little Quilcene River. If there is too much water flowing in the system, the water overflows down the pipe from the slope above this discharge point several hundred feet in elevation above - hence the high pressure and noise.

Water diversions and route to PT

Given that in its early days Port Townsend suffered from a shortage of water, the city celebrated its new water source with a man made waterfall in Chetzemoka Park discharging excess water. An informational sign in the park has a blow up of a post card sent to Bellingham showing the waterfall as a message of plenty of water in PT.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Canada & The United States Borders: 5 Minute Explanation

Just a fun bit on the United States-Canada border. Point Roberts in Washington State gets a quick mention, but the difficult resolution of the border that put the San Juan Islands in the United States was left off borderlines-and-oregon-country-Whatcom.

One might think letting Canada have Point Roberts would have been a sensible thing; however, Point Roberts happens to be a very rich salmon fishing area and was identified as such long before Euro/American settlement. The Point developed a robust and profitable American fishing industry that still is important.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Columbia River: Vancouver and Gray from Menzies' Perspective

I am reading a portion of Archibald Menzies' Journal. Menzies was the ship naturalist on Vancouver's expedition that included the Pacific Northwest.

Menzies clearly notes a large river at the present day mouth of the Columbia River observed on April 27, 1792: 

"About noon seeing some whitish water ahead induced us to haul the wind to the North West off the land to avoid the apparent danger of getting into shoal water. The exterior edge of this water like the former we met with made a defined line with the other & appeared muddy like the over flowings of a considerable river. Our Latitude was 46 14' North & the northern extreme which made a naked rocky point apparently separated from the land behind it which was covered with Trees bore North 5 or 6 miles from us. I could see at this time from the Mast head the appearance of a river or inlet going in on the South side of this rocky point which I took to be what Mr. Mears named Cape Disappointment, it is by us in Latitude 46 19' N & Longitude 236 4' East."

Mr. Mears referred to above was an earlier British explorer  who explored the area of the Columbia's mouth and stated "We can now with safety assert, that no such river as that of St. Roc exists, as laid down in the Spanish charts." Mears exploration and disappointment took place in 1788.

Spanish explorer Heceta had definitely noted a river that the location but was unable to sail into the river due to currents and lack of favorable wind. His attempt was in 1775.

Robert Gray, the American sailor on a private funded trading expedition had noted the river on a previous trading mission and returned to the area essentially at the same time Vancouver passed by the river. In fact they met the day after Vancouver by passed any attempt to sail into the river. The day after Vancouver had sailed past the Columbia as described by Menzies above, he met Gray sailing south and Gray informed Vancouver about the river.

Vancouver noted in his ship log that the river Gray mentioned "was probably the opening found by me on the forenoon of the 27th, and was inaccessible, not from the current, but from the breakers which extend across it.

Gray managed to get his boat through the shoals and rough water and into the river where he took on fresh water and traded profitably with the local Indians. His purpose was trading.

It was only later that the river became a point of competing claims to which nation had a claim on the Pacific Northwest. Gray's "discovery" of the Columbia was greatly hyped by Americans. It helped that Lewis and Clark traveled down the river before any British pulled off the feat. But in terms of just who ended up with which territory I would suggest that American pioneers in what became Oregon overwhelmed any British claims in what is now Oregon. But for the Washington State area the Columbia played a big role in a similar manner as to why Vancouver steered his ship clear of the river entrance. The much later American Wilkes Expedition reached the mouth of the Columbia and Wilkes determined that entering the river was not a good idea. He found the Puget Sound waters much more favorable and of great importance for future access.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Glenoma: Geology and Law

Glenoma (DNR, 2009)

Glenoma (DNR, 2009)

In writing a science oriented blog I try to tamp down my urges of opinion. Share facts and leave it at that. Some readers know that I do engage in policy issues. The above images are from landslides associated with a 2009 storm. That storm triggered a fair number of landslides - somewhere on the order of 1,400 documented slides. The particular set shown above and in Google earth 2009 images shown below are from the Glenoma area in Lewis County. These slides caused a fair bit of hardship to the property owners impacted by the slides.

Last weekend I worked on a amicus brief to submit to the State Supreme Court. I had no involvement in the case. However, the Court of Appeals ruling included a view that is unsupportable from a geologic perspective and in my view should be not stand.
I suppose there are those experts in legal matters that could educate me on these weighty legal matters and I am sure that those matters will be argued in the court. Regardless, it is very hard for me to look at the images form 2009 (I digitized nearly all of the landslide initiation sites on aerial images) and not conclude there is link to the slides and forest practices. Nuanced legal arguments aside, logging on steep slopes that are already marginally stable just from the slope angle alone has some risk. It strikes me that the risk is not being borne by those that profited from taking that risk.