Posts Tagged ‘glacier’

Sands of Change at Ft. Worden State Park

November 13, 2009

When you come from a place like Southeastern New Mexico, where the ground gently rolls for hundreds of miles, covered by clumps of grasses and cacti, one can’t help but obsess over the grandeur of the landscape in WA.  Just when you think you have it all figured out, you come across something new.

NE corner of bluff off of campgrounds, Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

I was walking along the shore, taking in the early winter waves as they crashed on the beach, when the bluff caught my eye.  It seemed so naked compared with the rest of the area (covered in vegetation).  I couldn’t help myself- I had to see what stories were being told.

DSC02574I could see many different layers in the near-vertical wall including colors from shades of gray to black to reddish.  Some of the layers seemed to be quite mixed in size and shape of stones.  One layer looked like it was mostly clay (apparently a popular place to sign-in by some- “I was here!”).  The one layer that really caught my eye seemed to be lots of layers that were compressed together.  The layers were really dark and crumbled easily.  It seemed like organic remains from plants.  Could this be the “peat” that the PTMSC Natural History Exhibit was describing?  Apparently, much of WA was quite a tropical place (hard to imagine on a blustery mid-40’s day).  The early Tertiary period was a time of humid swamps lining the early Puget Sound (in that time it was higher and covered much of the basin including Seattle).  These swamps were later covered by the sediments from erosion of the newly formed North Cascades and later the Olympics.  Again the forces of landscape carving would bring more sediment in front of a ¾ mile thick bulldozer and compactor.  The swamps beds were compressed and layered underneath loads of sediment and glacial ice. 

The “Ice Age” or Pleistocene began roughly 2.2 million years ago and as late as 1.6 million years ago began pushing ice into our backyards.  This inching advancement and retreat lasted till about 12,000 years ago.  During this period, lobes are arms of glacier advanced and retreated as many as four times, leaving us with freshly-carved Salish Sea and tons of sediment and boulders from foreign lands (mostly Canada).  I think it is fun to try to imagine both humid swamps and ice sheets in about 50 feet of bluff soil.

DSC02560As I stand at the base of the bluff I am reminded that this soil is still moving (the waves are now lapping at my feet).  Much of this bluff is constantly eroding from wave action.  Right now the waves are coming from the west with the wind off the ocean.  That means that any soil coming down will be swept along the beach and down around Point Wilson, where the light house stands.  I know that the wind doesn’t always come from that direction.  Sometimes it comes from the SE.  If I were to follow a grain of sand, how far would I travel this winter?  What would be my average direction?  What about other seasons.  How long would it take to be swept out to sea and onto the continental shelf?  Adventures for another age…


Upland vegetation growth on Hatcher Pass- Alaska

October 23, 2009

brian Ak 2009 004Glenn highway, Hatcher Pass, Talkeetna Mountains, Matanuska borough, north of Palmer, Alaska (definitely afield from the Olympic Peninsula!)
As we drive north from Palmer and away from Anchorage, the landscape is changing in many ways.  We are following the Little Susitna River to the top of its watershed.  It will eventually flow SW into the Cook Inlet.  The birch and alder eventually give way to large shrubs (seen from the window of car speeding along the highway).  Even in late October, it is pretty obvious that this terrain will see snow and lots of it (soon).  The obvious hints of snowmobiles and avalanches don’t hurt.brian Ak 2009 012 The lack of tall trees and other vegetation is something else.

As we drive up to Hatcher Pass at 3,886 ft. we also note some ponds perched along the river bed.  The water has a thin slick of ice in spots.  The margins of the pond are held by accumulations of brush and branches.  Several of the ponds have large piles or mounds of the same.  It appears that beavers have made this their home.  My guides and friends report that they have seen black bears, moose, wolverines and (unexpectedly) hikers along the slopes here too on past trips.

My curiosity in reading this landscape has me wondering what this landscape looks like outside of the warmer months.  Why are there very few trees?  Has there been logging, fires, avalanches, heavy snowpack, glaciers?  What are the abiotic (non-living factors) that are influencing the vegetation so?

Looking down the valley I notice the U-shape, characteristic of past glaciers advancing down the valley.  My guess is that the soil is still fairly poor in organics after the most recent glacial period and there hasn’t been much to seed this upper valley with trees.  That combined with long snow pack and likely windy conditions would make it very hard for trees.