Saturday, February 17, 2007

Inconvenient Truths, Washington State and Willapa Bay

[Editor's note] Kathleen Sayce is Shorebank resident scientist in Ilwaco. Her column in the Chinook Observer explains the scientific underpinnings of our area. She has started with basic geology. An excerpt is found after the end of my article.
Arthur Ruger





The Tide is Out - Photo from Wa Dept of Ecology
Willapa Bay is not a Grand Canyon-type visual but the view is very much our typical Pacific Northwest coast.

A week ago we watched our newest Netflix DVD, Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. I can see why it got an Academy Award Nomination.

I decided to ask Google some "Inconvenient-Truth"-related questions specifically about Willapa Bay - a sweet body of water that surrounds my house on three sides.

Some describe Willapa Bay and like locations as "estuarian," where landlubbing freshwater blends into seagoing salt water.

Esturian locations are most frequently habitated by small cities and towns, dairies, and farmlands that are all visible on the landward side of Highway 101 to anyone driving up and down the Washington and Oregon Coasts.

Oh, and we've got lots of elk herds too.
Photo is mine

Then there are those mudflats with their promise of shellfish riches hidden in shallow waters.

Add to that the lusting passion of property exploiters anxious to turn a dime with venture capital.

A member of the Raymond city council recently told us that the council met a developer who expressed that he is willing to spend whatever it takes to gain title to waterfront properties that - according to him - constitute the last available waterfront development properties on the entire western coastline of the United States.

We know our coastline as a repeated blending of bluffs, headlands, beaches, sand spits and dunes where lots of flora, fauna as well as water and land creatures have dwelt for thousands of years.

Except for the more popular small but expensive stretches of commercial holiday and vacation beaches, our coastline is not even moderately developed. There are lots of parks and acreage owned by Native American reservations - with or without trademark casinos.




Goose Point oyster beds - Photo Wa Dept of Ecology

The actual village of Bay Center is separated from the rest of the peninsula by a small bridge visible in the first picture above.

Global Warming will bring the sea level above that narrow channel and dunes over which the bridge spans.

My home town will ultimately and literally be an island.

Low coastlines near major river-mouths are vulnerable to heavy weather damage, particularly flooding, mud slides and cave ins consequential to powerful rain and winds. If global warning stirs up hotter and meaner hurricanes and typhoons elsewhere, we are seeing meaner winds, heavier rains, greater floodings coupled with more and more disappearing coastlines.

Click on Google "Light House Digest, Willapa Station" and you'll see a series of pictures of an entire lighthouse that at one time stood at the center of a hill overlooking the ocean and the bay at Tokeland.

Tokeland as the seagull flies is less than 5 miles from Goose Point/Bay Center but almost 40 to get there by automobile.

The light station progressively moved further and further toward the water at the edge of the hill as corrosion depleted the soil. Eventually the station was hanging over the edge so precariously that engineers had to destroy it with explosive charges for safety reasons.

That was more than 65 years ago - before we knew what we were doing by spewing crap into the atmosphere.



So what does Al Gore's message mean to Bay Center coastal creatures like me?

Well, it means immediate and more frequent storms bringing bigger waves, greater road damage from blown-down trees and more soft spot collapses on the roads, bluffs and coastlines.


Photo is mine
Science types used to talk about El Nino raising the sea level for months at a time as well as temporarily altering wind and wave directions - all just periodic events that would eventually revert.

Now, perhaps with or without any solitary influence of El Nino, it looks like we might be in for higher sea levels coupled with weather fluctuations that prompt permanent changes in weather,

topography and human thinking.

Now we move from somewhat domestic trivial concerns about not installing fragile decorative landscaping to the idea perhaps of elevating existing homes onto stilts, reworking roofs, knocking down old dying houses and replacing them perhaps with brick and concrete.Our shallow water seafood farmers may find themselves engaged permanently in a need to manage a probable cyclical expansion of Spartina as well as the increasingly frequent episodes of pollution's impact on coastal ecology and economy.





Mechanical treatment of Spartina meadow,Willap Bay, 2003
Photo Wa DNR

Experts predict climate warming in the future to likely raise global sea levels from 4 to 35 inches in the 21st century, as opposed to the 4 to 8 inch rise of the 20th century.

Regional differences in ocean circulation and heat content may result in a larger sea-level rise on the Pacific than the Atlantic coast of North America.

Then there is the idea that although we can't feel it, the earth moves under our feet. It's called uplift or subsidence (sinking) of the land surface itself.

The major uplifting terrains in the Northwest are at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca which rises one tenth of an inch per year.

The other is some 40 miles south of Bay Center at the mouth of the Columbia River. The earth rises there only slightly more than half an inch yearly.

That means that low-lying settlements and harbors will be at an ever-increasing risks, especially as risk is exacerbated by increasingly larger storms.

That of course means more and more loss of coastline to erosion and directional changes of sediment flows that restructure the shape of the coast line. Similar problems are consequences impacted by fluctuation in ocean stream's directional flow.

When meaner winter storms and heavier rains soak into the soil we'll suffer more and more land and mud slides and flooding with resulting troubles on bluffs, beach fronts as well as farms and homes along rivers.

Oh, and temperature and other changes also mean that other growing things not normally found this far north on the Pacific Coast could drift this way, stake out a claim on life and begin homesteading where they ain't wanted; crowding out what is wanted.

... Or worse, crowding out and contaminating our natural harvestable friends out here in our shallow waters.

Ever heard of the European Green Crab? Look it up.


European green crabs in their natural habitat are smaller than those in invaded habitat - Jeff Goddard

University of California, Santa Barbara DOI. USGS. Western Ecological Research Center.

Now it is true that warmer summers might mean longer tourist seasons. Hell, if the water warms up enough we'll have a North Pacific Waikiki Beach, complete with big surf and big surfers, right?

Tourism might bloom, but for those heritage and culture-based dwellers who've been here for generations - who haven't necessarily

been interested in tourist trapping - folks may have to start trapping them there tourists anyway just to survive. Closer to reality, if it warms up enough, canneries might move on, leaving cannery-supported family incomes stranded.

Expensive homes drive up prices - great!

But expensive homes don't bring family shopping centers. No Target Stores or JC Penny - more like Lord and Taylor.

If the cannery job is lost, even if your house is paid for, who will pay those new higher property taxes?

So much for staying on the old homestead where families have laughed and wept for generations.

What to do in anticipation?

Well, I have to go to work right now, so the rest of my story will have to be next time.

... Later




[Excerpt] from the Chinook Observer:

2/21/2007
Peninsula Rocks & Roots: Pliocene Epoch: Ice, erosion and uplift shaped modern mountains and river valleys

By KATHLEEN SAYCE

Two million years ago to 15,000 years ago

Basic Concept:

The Pleistocene Epoch began with major glaciation around 2 Ma (millions of years ago). Uplift of mountain ranges continued during the ice age, but with glaciation, increased erosion by ice and water began to rapidly carve new landscapes out of hard rock. Both montane and continental ice formed in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascade, Olympic and Coast Ranges had montane glaciers, as did Vancouver Island.

Continental ice flowed around the island to north and south. Continental ice formed across northern North America. Lobes of continental ice flowed south into eastern Washington and Puget Sound and out the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Continental ice was 3,500 ft thick along the north edge of the Olympics, and surrounded that range on three sides, which was open to the ocean only on the west side. West of the Cascades, the path of the Chehalis River ran along the southern edge of the continental ice sheet.

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