Sunday, August 30, 2015
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Another post away from Washington, but some science and policy perspective from Petrified Forest National Park:
Ashley gave us a tour of the collections room and the paleontology lab. On a personal level I have always admired the work of paleontologists. Intense detailed work collecting and deciphering small details and labor intensive efforts to extract fossils from the ground and figuring out where they fit into our history of life on this planet. They tell us deep history, but it is a history that takes a great deal of work and study. Yes, it is cool to see petrified logs and fossils on the ground, but the story is hard to figure out. The history of life and certainly of the various reptiles is far from figured out with numerous changes and rethinking of things as new discoveries force reassessment.
The phytosaur skull shown above may be misleading as to what is in the non processed jackets. Often the jackets encase a loose mess of small bones that is far from understood at the time of collection in the field. Some hint within the initial digging suggests that the effort of collection is worthwhile. And one does have to picture the moving of that block of plaster from the field to the lab. Yeah for interns and volunteers! These are group projects.
A couple of thrills in the collection.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
The Thistle Canyon landslide (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thistle,_Utah) is an example that should be remembered about mountainous terrain. Steep mountain slopes can and do occasionally fall down. This mountain canyon slide caused a classic hazard. The slide itself of course was damaging, but the slide also blocked the Spanish Fork River forming a lake.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
This year's review has been a bit bumpy because the Charter Commission majority is very out of step with the current Council. This is in part due to the Commission being elected by district only voting while the council reflects the majority of County voters having been elected by county-wide voting. The split is result of the way the districts were drawn up with District 1 being overwhelming Democrat leaning and the other 2 leaning Republican.
The Charter Commission has finished its work of submitting proposed amendments to the voters of Whatcom County. The commission's main focus was political versus good governance and amendments were put forward that are an attempt to shift elections not for better representation.
The County Council has also put two Charter Amendments on the ballot as is their right under the State Constitution as well as under the County Charter. Needless to say this has upset the local GOP leadership that had dominated the Charter Review and is leading to some weirdness.
Charter Commission 1: District Only Voting
This is one of the partisan parts of the package of amendments. The Charter Commission majority are Republicans and they can do math. By going to district only voting, they can pull off minority rule for the elections of county council. District 1 under district only voting will be two Democrats as that district is overwhelming Democrat. District 2 will be 2 Republicans as it leans much towards Republicans although not so much as District 1 leans Democrat. District 3 leans Republican by a little and will likely be 2 Republicans as well at least in the near term. The results of district only voting can be seen in the Charter Commission election itself. District 1 all Democrats, District 2 all Republicans and District 3 four Republicans and one Democrat. A majority of Commission members have been fairly clear that the main purpose behind this scheme is overcoming the majority voting that has led to the Council currently being 6 Democrats (one was appointed) and one independent. The last council election saw Democrats sweep Republican candidates.
One of the problems with this proposal beyond the minority rule motivation is the County has only three districts and the way the current districts are drawn is a bit off for meeting State law on district boundaries. This was never much of a problem since council (and by the way Port and Public Utility District) were elected county-wide. But with Bellingham carved up by three districts the district lines should be redrawn to meet state rules - a difficult task with only three districts. None of that matters though if your goal is to accomplish minority rule.
There are also some real governance issues with district only elections. Council members will concentrate only on issues that matter within their district and vote swapping along the lines of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" should be of some concern particularly with public works projects.
Charter Commission 2: Change of ballot measure word limit from 20 to 40
This is a modest change to rules governing ballot measure descriptions for county initiatives and received broad commission support.
Charter Commission 3: Limits Council Charter Amendment Proposals
This amendment was initially put forward to prevent the County Council from putting forward amendments that would undo any of the charter amendments that might pass. It has since been modified so that the council can, but would require a 7-0 vote by the council. The change was made to resolve an obvious State Constitutional conflict. The change required the Charter Commission to change their rules, had no public hearing and there was no discussion. I can fairly readily see some serious governance problems with this poorly thought through amendment. But I am unfair to say it was poorly thought through. It was well thought through if the goal is partisan politics. No thought given to governance.
Charter Commission 1: Reduce citizen Charter initiative signatures
This proposal is to reduce the number of signatures citizens need to gather to bring forward initiatives more in line with state initiative rules.
Charter Commission 6 and 18: Term Limits for Council and Executive
This would limit council and executive to three 4-year terms. Currently there are no limits.
Charter Commission 10: Limits Council Proposed Charter Amendments regarding council selection
This amendment has a similar goal as Number 4. It prevents Council from putting forward Charter Amendments regarding the election of Council members. The original was modified with no hearing or discussion to require a 7-0 vote by the council in order to avoid an obvious State Constitution conflict.
Charter Commission 13: Four parties in District Review Commission
The District Review Commission draws the election district boundaries in Whatcom County. This amendment would modify the makeup of the commission based the results of the last election.
The County Council considered several Charter Amendment proposals brought to them by citizens that were frustrated or concerned by the Charter Review Commission's partisanship. Full disclosure: I submitted two proposed amendments.
Council: 5 District Proposal
This proposal would shift the County from the current 3 districts to 5 districts and thus would address the problematic issue of the current district boundaries and with more and smaller districts might also assure broader diversity on the Council. This amendment passed and will be on the November ballot. Full disclosure again: I testified in favor of this measure but it was not one I brought forward, personally I would prefer to see the County go to seven districts.
Council Super Majority Proposal
This amendment will be on the ballot and if passed will require that any charter amendment put forward by the Charter Commission and/or the Council require a super majority vote by the commission or council. This would have the effect on the commission of ending the narrow partisan approach that has plagued essentially every Charter review. It could be called the "cut the crap" amendment and perhaps would lead to discussion of governance issues versus the partisanship. The amendment proposal also calls out that the council would be required to have a super majority which is already the case, but a phrase was added that says that "no amendment shall require a higher number". This is in direct conflict with the Charter Commissions scheme of requiring a 7-0 vote by the council.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Mills Creek drains off the west side of Anderson Mountain in the Northwest Cascades down to the Samish River valley. Mills Creek is one of several drainages that have built alluvial fans onto the Samish River valley floor.
The Samish River is a rather small river and by northwest standards falls into a category of creek like except it is rather long and has an important salmon fishery. Its valley in the Northwest Cascades predates the river. The Samish just happens to be occupying this deep intermountain valley.
The Samish flow and gradient is no match for the episodic discharges of sediment from the tributary streams flowing off the steep slopes of the valley. These tributary fans are blocking the Samish and have formed a chain of lakes and swamps along the gentle valley floor.
Mills Creek has a bit of sad history. A landslide in the creek drainage blocked the creek and the subsequent dam burst debris flood killed a resident on the fan below during a storm event in January 1983.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
This stretch of road crosses a short-lived former path of the late ice age melt water channel that cut through the terrace between what is now the South Fork Nooksack River valley and the upper Samish River valley.
On clear days this area of the Samish/South Fork Nooksack provides a great view of the Twin Sisters Range.
Friday, August 14, 2015
Another nearby tree had recently broken off due to the structural strain along with some wind but was still alive sending up new growth from the broken off trunk. I have seen this same habit in burned over areas with madrones and sites where madrones were cut down.
Geology note: in the above image the base of the bluff is sandstone bedrock overlain by glacial drift.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Kathyrn Schulz's article in the New Yorker (newyorker.com/the-really-big-one) managed to do more to get attention about the big subduction quake risk on the Washington (and Oregon and southern BC) coasts than any article. I became aware something was up in our internet age media when a post I put up regarding tsunamis three years ago started getting 200 to 300 page views a day. The fact that it took an article in the New Yorker to create such reaction has to be a bit frustrating to geologists and emergency planners that have tried to raise attention to this risk.
Chris Goldfinger, a geologist heavily relied on for the article put up a post (the-meaning-of-toast) regarding the "toast" quote in the article that is consistent with my take on the quote. I will only add that it is my experience that emergency planners tend to be way ahead of land use planners when it comes to geologic hazards. One could take the view that land use planners lack of corrective action as geologic hazards become better understood are creating the emergencies that emergency planners are then forced to address.
Kathyrn Schulz also had an excellent follow up article on the initial article including some maps regarding seismic shaking from the "big full rip" earthquake scenario (how-to-stay-safe-when-the-big-one-comes). The maps that were not part of the initial article perhaps clarifies the risk.
I also heard an interview of Ms. Schulz. She, along with Dr. Goldfinger and numerous geologists I have spoken with as well as myself, has feelings of dread whenever visiting the outer coast of Oregon. The same feeling is present when I have visited the outer coast of Washington. The "big one" will shake the outer coast much more intensely than the I-5 corridor and then will be followed by a very large tsunami. Having visited outer coast tsunami sites it is a hard thing to be in communities that one knows face nearly complete destruction. Those places face hard planning both for land use and emergencies.
Monday, August 10, 2015
Fission material for the first nuclear detonation (Trinity nuclear test) and the fuel for the second second atomic attack on Japan was made at the Hanford site north of Richland, Washington.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
Threats to farmland and timberland are often equated with development. However, by far the largest threat to farmland acreage in Whatcom County at the moment is the Swift Creek landslide. I've posted about the slide numerous times and even gave it its own label if you want to see all the posts.
The big problem with the Swift Creek landslide can be summed up with a few images:
One estimate on the volume of sediment being delivered to the base of the mountain by this ongoing landslide is the equivalent of one football field buried 100 feet deep every year.
And on farmland.
The above image can only partially capture the problem. So much sediment has accumulated that the creek bed is elevated above the surrounding farm fields.
There is another issue besides the asbestos. The sediment is derived from fractured serpentine rocks. This rock type has some unique chemistry and is well known wherever it occurs to be very hard on most plants. The metals ratio of calcium and magnesium cause plants to have problems, the pH is elevated and there is a lack of phosphate bearing minerals, phosphorus being an element essential to life.
Note the bare sediment piles in the images above. Nothing can grown on these piles. So besides the asbestos problem as a health risk issue, the sediment is essentially toxic to farmland soils. Notes on USDA soil mapping of the area mark areas that have been impacted by Swift Creek sediment from past floods caused by sediment filling the channel of the creek. With nothing being able to grow the sediment is subject to being blown about as dust containing asbestos fibers.
The extent of the problem is partially shown in this Google earth image:
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Monday, August 3, 2015
IDT has to do what every geology guide book does - that is provide an introduction to geology and the big picture geology of the area with plate tectonics and what comes after. I always enjoy reading these sections, not to really learn any geology but to see how different geologists tackle the subject with a limited amount of pages. DT did the task about as well as any I have seen with some very good graphics and without fear even throwing in the complication of Baja BC for hard core tectonic folks. This section was not overly dumbed down.
The book provides 22 geology excursions with detail on how to get there and what to see. A good diverse selection to get a good taste of the diverse geologic features in western Washington. I went right to some of the places I have been to.
I believe DT provides the best write up I have seen on the Mima Mounds - site and subject that drives geologists crazy. DT runs through all the various theories and problems with all of the theories and includes even the latest ideas and observations. If you have any intent of visiting the Mima Mounds or trying to solve the mounds, you would be well advised to take a careful read of this trip.
The Bridge of the Gods, where a massive landslide blocked the Columbia River was well researched and fully up to date. Cheryl Staryed did not provide much in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. But DT will fill you in on the compelling story of this remarkable location with a very good historic perspective.
A good geology book to western Washington has been long overdue. DT provides it. There is a enough detail and explanation in each excursion to ensure that anyone that takes the trip with book in hand will learn something. That includes geologists and non geologists alike. And for geologists dragging friends along on excursions a great way to impress your friends.