Sunday, March 29, 2015

Root Stains

One of the pleasures of field work is coming across something that I know nothing about and is - well a bit perplexing. During a recent landslide assessment I came across these back stains on the soil just below the landslide scarp.
The black stains were all associated with Douglas fir roots.


What I did find, as can be seen above, is the stains were only on the surface of the soil. This suggests that the staining took place only after the landslide took place. I should add that there roots are connected to trees that had been cute down within the past two years.

The stains appeared to be related to some sort of fluid released from the roots. Perhaps some sort of resin dripping on the surface of the soil.

For me a random observation that I have no place to put and know nothing about. So afraid there is no lesson in this post. That said, it is great fun to observe something new and know nothing about the observation. Mystery and the unknown are wonderful.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ground Water Recharge and Forestry

Hal Berton has an article on one of the actions post Hazel/Oso Landslide that has taken place: seattletimes.state-tackles-steep-challenges-to-step-up-logging-oversight.

Below are a couple of DEM images of the bench areas above the Town of Concrete that were mentioned in the article. There have been some slides around the perimeters of these terraces.

I was up on a valley side terrace in a different valley this week.

Nice level ground for logging operations with a stand of third growth forest.

The soil underlying the bench is sand and gravel. Hence, any rain water or snow melt will readily infiltrate into the ground and recharge the groundwater. The removal of trees will increase the amount of water being recharged into the ground.

The slopes along the edge of the terrace are very steep and based on topography the water entering the ground on the level area shown above would likely discharge somewhere on this slope.

About 400 feet down slope water was pouring out of the ground in a series of large springs. I was a bit surprised at the volume and suspect the source area of water is more extensive than the surface topography suggests. In this particular case the water appears to be flowing through bedrock joints along the top of a granitic body and no unstable slopes were identified. So in this case, lots of recharge potential but the groundwater discharge is not being directed towards any obvious unstable slopes.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Blooms East of the Cascades

Update: Thanks for the assistance
I find the plant diversity in the scrub steep landscapes a bit humbling. Some of the blooms I once knew, but the identification has leaked out of my head. I did catch a timely break on a few as Meandering Washington documented some spring flowers in similar terrain south of where I was. Otherwise I just enjoyed the small diverse treasures of Spring in the scrub lands.

 A variety of bluebells? 
Mertensia longiflora, Long flowered bluebells

Mertensia longiflora, Long flowered bluebells

Prairie Star, Lithophragma bulbifera

Shooting star of some sort
Dodecatheon pulchellum , Shooting Star

Shooting star plant - very small

Yellow bell

This one is an ID that has leaked out of my head - should be easy
Hooker’s balsamroot, Balsamorhiza hookeri

Cushion phlox

Cushion phlox is one I remember as it forms wonderful clumps of flowers on otherwise harsh rocky ground.
Cushion phlox

Daggerpod, Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides

Daggerpod, Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides

Sagebrush violet

Sagebrush violet
  I will say I did recognize this as some sort of violet.
Sagebrush violet

Monday, March 23, 2015

Road Trip on the High Plains of Eastern Washington

Navigating across the high plains of eastern Washington provides a sense of adventure and exploration while in the comfort of the cushioned seat of the car. While taking a short cut from one place to the next, one needs to stay alert to precise location and the fact that roads on a map may no longer exist and new roads may have been cut. Google maps is only of marginal help in this landscape. 
The paved routes are the easy part, but if there is a shorter route to my destination I will take it.

On graveled roads, I start calculating the cost of lining the road with crushed rock gravel and just what the area and who might be served by this expense. It sure does improve the ability to get heavy trucks in and out of the wheat fields and with a lot less dust.
The last links of any short cut can be iffy. Despite the switch to dirt I felt confident this road would be a go as it was dry and there were relatively fresh tire tracks.

Local road signs were not much use.
This road was relatively newly graded as can be seen by the blocks of dirt on the sides. The water rills down the track got a bit deep further on but with the new grading were avoidable.
This bit of road was one section I knew would be bad ahead so I stopped here and proceeded to my destination on foot.
The high plains comes to an abrupt end with 1,500-foot canyon. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lava Poured on Ice

I have been a bit heavy on field work and other obligations so a bit short on brilliant content: but this video is way cool. If anything it shows the remarkable insulation ability of basalt. I would note further that the experiment was by Syracuse University - a school I have always been fond of. Syracuse made a nice offer to me to for graduate school. I instead decided to head back to the Washington State landscapes and went to Western Washington University.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Nick and Tom: Geology of Seattle and the Puget Sound

Nick Zentner and Tom Foster have been putting together some great videos explaining Washington landscapes. They are working on an I-90 series and start off in Seattle.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Political Sunday: Bloody Sunday and The Battle of Bogside

A combination of last week's celebration of "Bloody Sunday", Saint Patrick's Day, and my tribal homeland inspires this non Washington Landscape post.
Last weekend there were remarkable remembrances of the march across the bridge in Selma, Alabama. And for good reason - the event, now referred to as "Bloody Sunday", brought about a significant change in civil rights. Besides being the 50th anniversary, this years remembrance of that day had added meaning given the events in Ferguson, New York as well as other communities.
The term Bloody Sunday calls up in my mind another protest march that turned much more violent and had very long lasting consequences and lead to many more deaths and acts of violence for decades afterward. A civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland ended with dozens of people shot including 14 killed. Bloody Sunday was recalled by the band U2. The band would often introduce the song as not a "rebel song", as there was in Ireland a genre of rebel music glorifying the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
A bit of footage of the Bloody Sunday event. And for those that want to dig deeper into the Troubles, a documentary on the Battle of Bogside which took place three years earlier and resulted in the British Army taking over policing in the Bogside which eventually led to the Bloody Sunday Disaster. The Battle of Bogside was truly a remarkable event that should have led to rapid political change. The lack of substantive action by the United Kingdom was the real tragedy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Brief Winter of 2014-2015

For most of western Washington lowlands this has been a snow free winter. At this late stage the odds of a snow storm are getting very low. Other than a few flakes during the November cold spell - the only winter-like weather all winter, this has been a rather remarkable winter for warmth. That brief period of cold brought 12 degree temperatures to my home with hard winds out of the Fraser Canyon. The outflow of cold air rapidly dried the air and just a few flakes fell. At the time winter seemed to be starting; turned out to be that was the only winter weather all winter.

The cold air crossed over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and as it rose up the slopes on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula and hence the Port Angeles area did get a bit of snow cover. This event was captured on the Google Earth image I cam across while doing some review of a site.   

Google earth (11/29/14)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Field Work in the Blue Hole

Today was a field day. After several sunny days, filed work was looking like it would be a bit wet.
Heading through the Chukanuts on I-5 south of Belligham

My first field visit was urban with a bit of inside work. A job that requires discretion but I figure this view would not give much away:

Internal concrete wall with buttresses supporting slope above

I then headed over the water via the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry and had a great view of the "Blue Hole".
Whidbey Island on right and Quimper Peninsula on left

The Blue Hole forms on the down wind side of the Olympic Range. It most often forms on the north northeast side of the range. It was a bit more east oriented today with sun on the Hood Canal floating bridge.
View south down Hood Canal with rain in the distance

Alas I did not get full sun on my slope work with the trees screening me, but it made for a much drier day than how it appeared at the start.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Edge of the Rockies - Eastern Washington Steptoes

The Rocky Mountains do extend into the east edge of Washington State. High mountains that are part of the complex ranges of the Rockies are located in the northeast part of the state. South of Spokane the range is more subdued, but outliers that reach above the Columbia River Basalts and rise above the silt deposits of the Palouse crop out as isolated peaks.

Steptoes in the Palouse

Steptoe Butte is the most famous and that butte lends its name to similar types of buttes that rise above the much younger deposits.

Steptoe Butte viewed from the northwest rises above the Palouse

Steptoe Butte and its lesser steptoes to the north consist of very ancient Precambrian bedrock of the Revett and Burke Formations. Formations found to the east in the Rockies.

Two other outcrops of Precambrian rocks are located in the canyon of Rock Creek east of the steptoes. Both of these Precambrian outcrops are highly metamorphosed and their affinity is uncertain (see bonnie-lake-precambrian-schist and more-notes-on-bonnie-lake-steptoe).

To the northeast of Cheney and extending to Reardon are another set of steptoes most of which are Precambrian outcrops correlated with other Precambrian rocks to the east and north.

These steptoes also were along the upper part of the Palouse floodway path that was flooded during the larger ice-age floods. The peaks stood above the flood waters. Would have been a good place to watch the flood pass by if one was lucky enough to be on one of these steptoes. Interstate 90 passes between Wrights Hill and Riddle Hill and one can get a glimpse of the ancient rocks along the freeway.

Steptoe Butte was named for Colonel Steptoe. Steptoe and most of his men were nearly slaughtered by a unified group of Indians led by Chief Kamiakin near the Butte that now has his name (he did not however use the butte as a defensive location). Wrights Hill was named for General George Wright. He led U.S. troops in a retaliation strike against the Indians and from the hill that has his name his troops with better guns than the Indians badly defeated the consolidated tribes and brutally ended warfare in Washington Territory.    

Monday, March 9, 2015

Freeze-Thaw, Road Damage and Small Landslides

Despite the warm winter there was bit of very early cold weather that did do some road damage back in November in northwest Washington. A bad combination of wet weather followed by a hard freeze period is a bad combination for roads. During these periods counties will issue weight restriction rules to keep heavy trucks off of soft roads. 

This particular street in Bellingham continued to get water into the road bed and on the road itself days after the rains had stopped and the ground had frozen. The subgrade drainage has clearly failed here and the freezing water is starting to break up the pavement.

The freeze thaw process is also a driver of shallow landslides on shoreline bluffs. The expansion of water in the wet soil effectively peals soil off the bluff face that is already steep. I saw dozens of these slides during an early December trip before the mild winter weather took over this year.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Political Sunday: Pizza

The article included a graphic showing northeast Washington Congressional Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers is one of the big supporters of pizza. I suspect the pizza money has much to do with her congressional leadership position versus pizza somehow being a bigger deal in northeast Washington than elsewhere.
I do have some bias on the eating pizza issue. Sunday is pizza day at my house and has been for a few decades. So yes I love pizza. I do not consider it junk food. But I suspect I do not see things quite the same way as most of the pizza lobby. My other pizza bias is I would never buy pizza from any of the places discussed in the article. With rare exceptions when traveling to say Napoli, I never buy pizza.

This morning I will mix two cups of warm water with two tablespoons of sugar and two teaspoons of yeast, wait 15 minutes and then mix in 6 cups of flour and then knead it to a smooth uniform consistency and leave it for the rest of the day perhaps punching it down once if it is warm. In the evening I will roll out two 14-inch crusts and then get creative. I am sure that excepting the truffle pizza, my pizza would readily meet the vegetable serving criteria sought for school lunches.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mineral Resource Planning

I did a volunteer stint on the Whatcom County Surface Mining Advisory Committee (SMAC). The SMAC is charged with providing recommendations on goals and policies associated with surface mining in the County - mostly around sand, gravel and rock aggregate resources. We worked through various goals and policies which informed the development of specific regulations and possibly in the future designation of mineral lands protection The protection of mineral lands is to reduce development potential near and over future mine areas so that the aggregate material can remain available in the future.

For many years Whatcom County has had a policy of designating a 50-year supply. I have never cared for that concept. Two reasons:

1) Why be so short sited? If high quality material is available, it should be protected for use by future generations. Just because a deposit is not likely to be mined in the near future does not mean it won't be valuable in some future time when development expands or other resources are used up.

2) The 50-year supply number is a bit of reach to achieve in Whatcom County due to the lack of available resource. The lack of 50-year supply has been used by some industry folks as an argument for adding areas where there are rather intense conflicts with other County policies. Examples pressure to mine areas on high quality agricultural soils or rock quarries requiring blasting next to residential homes and view areas.

One very good reason to have the county do the set asides versus the current industry application process is that it will clarify the predictability of where mining will take place far into the future and clarify the conflicts between the resource and other resources.

It should also clarify the need to be able to import aggregate at the Bellingham waterfront. A message that needs to be incorporated into any city's waterfront planning and so far not taken seriously by Bellingham (notes-on-demise-of-a-port).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fire and Forests on San Juan Island

Fire played a large role in shaping the landscape of San Juan Island and likely lots of other areas in western Washington. Tom Schroeder has assembled a site ( to observations and interpretations he has made  on the San Juan Island forests that is very consistent with my own observations and has greatly aided me in understanding the forest ecology of the San Juan Islands. 
On a recent venture to San Juan Island I passed through a mix of fire scarred trees with a mix of old growth. Most of this forest was Douglas fir. But with the dry aspects of the site and thin soils areas of open ground still persist. 
Sam sniffs the ground near a fire scarred Douglas fir
Weather beaten firs on the upper slopes of a bald area

Old Douglas fir with very heavy limbs would have had no appeal for lumber value

More fire scars

Large fir on summit

Heavy limbed Douglas fir
No need to loose limbs when growing on open ground 

Large old snag

Open meadows and old growth firs and snags

Another fire scarred tree

Older fire scarred tree with younger trees and open understory 

I did have some historic information that this area was impacted by multiple fires well into the 20th century. A review of aerial photographs showed a slow encroachment of forest into open ground as fires became less frequent and grazing and logging diminished.