Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coast Nerd video

Last weekend was the 2nd Annual River and Ocean Festival, held in Forks, WA in association with the Washington Coast Clean-up.

Make sure you make room for the 2016 film festival in your schedule!

I help to organize this event because I think we are entering this great age of small-scale film-making, enabled by digital technologies. And that means that, more and more, we are seeing perspectives and views into other peoples lives and experiences that we've never had before. The River and Ocean Film Festival is designed to showcase films about the west end of the Olympic Peninsula, but I've also been tracking films about coastal science and hazards. A few that have come up lately:

Here is a nice little series I found just last night, by the St. Petersburg (Florida) Coastal and Marine Science Center of the USGS. I love this!:

While I am a giant fan of the USGS Coastal and Marine program, I think that from the standpoint of nerdy videos about coastal geology and geomorphology, that this video series from Ireland takes the grand prize. Here is an example:

I love this stuff!

A bit closer to home, is this piece by Oregon Sea Grant focused on the coastal effects of climate change, part of a series (find them all here):

and there are also some really nice coastal videos at the Science Earth youtube channel. Here is an example:

And then we get into the one-offs. As an example, here is an interesting film by The Verge focused on design strategies for protecting Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rialto Beach

Its been a while...

Had the chance to survey Rialto Beach earlier this week, on the coast of Washington in Olympic National Park, as part of my shoreline morphology monitoring program (which is, by the way, looking for a better name...should you have any ideas). And I decided to post about it because...MAN, WHAT A BEACH! Rialto is so very cool...every time I go out there I am blown away by its morphology and the degree of variability it exhibits.

The first thing you notice at Rialto are logs. Does this beach ever have logs (see photos above)! And these aren't small logs either - these are massive old growth trunks grounded in the upper intertidal. These things are definitely influencing shoreline morphology and evolution...they must be...but exactly how isn't totally clear to me yet.

The next thing that always strikes me about Rialto is the evidence of erosion everywhere...mostly in the form of dead trees:

The odd thing, though, is that based on survey data from the last few years, it doesn't look like Rialto is eroding really at all over shorter, annual, timescales (though it is subject to seasonal variability). That suggests to me the likelihood that this shoreline is pretty subject to erosion related to relatively infrequent El Nino winters, or perhaps the once-or-twice-a-century extreme storms. I know that there have been big changes out there within recent living memory - I would love to hear any stories...

But the other thing I've started to really take note of at Rialto are exposures of what appears to be some base strata that the ocean is cutting into:

It would be interesting to date some of these exposures, and try to work out what they tell us about the evolution of the shoreline on the coast of Washington over longer time-scales.

Finally, I am always blown away by the ocean's power on display at Rialto:

Above, for example, is a photo of a sizeable small boulder wedged into the crook of a root wad, which is itself buried in the beach substrate. Now its entirely possible that this rock travelled with the root wad, but it sure looked like the thing had been forcibly jammed into place, and waves have been known to move bigger. The waves at Rialto always seem more powerful to me as compared to just across the river in La Push, which I've attributed to perhaps the off-shore bathymetry, or the beach orientation. Regardless, this was an indication to me of the forces at work on this beach.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Second Beach

The view from Second Beach, Olympic National Park, this weekend

Had the opportunity to visit Second Beach over the weekend, and survey First Beach at La Push a few days ago with students from the Quileute Tribal School and Forks High School. Its been a beautiful stretch of weather, and the coast is the right place to be at times like these.

A bedrock exposure at the south end of Second Beach, completely coated with Aggregating Anenomes (Anthopleura elegantissima)

A few observations from Second Beach...

I was struck at Second Beach by the volume of the looked like the beach had accreted substantially since the last time I was there a few months back. Even at a mid-level tide the beach was broader than I remembered:

On the upper beach, many large logs were partially buried by sand:

Large logs at Second Beach partially buried by fresh deposition

Is this a localized episode of accretion at Second Beach? Or is there something about the weather recently (relatively mild, small waves, etc.) that has pushed sand up into the intertidal? I'm curious now to work up our data from First Beach, and see how the profiles look...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sampling the sea floor

Guy Gelfenbaum and Jackson Currie, both with the US Geological Survey, use a sediment grab off-shore of the Elwha River delta.

One of the fundamental data types used to track change in the coastal zone adjacent to the Elwha River mouth are sediment samples. Grain size data play a central role, for example, in our recently published paper documenting physical changes to the coastal environment in the first two years after dam removal.

Yesterday, associated with regular topography/bathymetry surveys of the Elwha River delta, I went out to help dredge up yet more dirt from the ocean floor. Check it out:

The day turned out to be pretty nice, with beautiful water conditions, so all in all not a bad way to spend a every sample we pulled up added a bit to our understanding of how sediment is moving around in the coastal environment. On top of it, we got to observe a veritable feeding frenzy occurring right off the river mouth, with possibly ~100 Harbor seal and California sea lions feeding (perhaps on some of the fish species observed just a few days earlier?) just a few feet outside the river mouth.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Fall Warm Water Pulse in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Students from this year's oceanography class construct their mooring

For the past three years my oceanography class at Peninsula College has built and deployed moorings that measure, amongst other things, water temperature around City Pier in Port Angeles Harbor. The deployments are always about a month long, and always take place around the same time...usually mid-October to mid-November.

HOBO pendants, the data collection workhorse for my class's moorings

The moorings are built around HOBO pendants, which are placed to measure both surface water temperature, and "deep" water temperature...up to about 25 feet deep in this part of the Harbor.

Mooring deployment locations around City Pier

Here is the interesting observation from this year: We captured a really dramatic spike in water temperature this fall. I'm going to show data from the deepest water HOBO available at Station D, off the very end of the Pier, simply to illustrate that this wasn't just a surface warming phenomenon. This HOBO sits at a depth of about 20 feet relative to MLLW. Here are the data from 2012 and 2013. You will note that the 2012 deployment was only 2 weeks long:

In 2014 here was the pattern (the green line). Hopefully the difference is obvious:

But in reality, given the short record in 2012, we are working with only two years of data here - not ideal. So lets turn to surface water temperature measures from the Port Angeles tide gauge to try to get a sense of how anomalous this might be. First off, here is the typical annual pattern, based on data since 1998:

This takes water temperature data from each year (hourly observations) and plots them against the day of the year. I've colored all these years the same - the key take away is that in the fall the typical pattern is to see a decline in water temperature as winter sets in.

2013 was a bit different, in that there was a one-week pulse of relatively warm water recorded in the harbor in October (around Day 275; and actually one in July as well around day 180):

At the time I thought these two pulses were very interesting (and still do). But this year's fall pulse, the one we picked up with our class HOBO's, lasted much longer and was warmer (the red line between about Day 280 and 330):

That bulge between about Day 280 and 330 is warmer, by about 2 degrees Celsius, than the "usual" warm temperature at that time of year. The only other year that exceeds it? The 1997 winter, during a strong El Nino (shown here in purple):

Here, the pulse of warm water in the harbor occurred a bit earlier in the fall, but looks very similar in terms of its magnitude and duration. The interesting thing is that NOAA currently has us on an El Nino Watch, and suggests that El Nino conditions still aren't present. Interestingly, though, they note that much of the Pacific is warmer than average, but its the atmospheric El Nino conditions that haven't materialized. No matter which way you cut it though, no once is calling this a strong El Nino like the one that materialized in Spring 1997.

Another way to look at this is to look at the monthly average temperature from the Port Angeles tide station:

So in this case the thinner line is the monthly average temperature - you can see the seasonal pattern in there quite clearly. The green thicker line is the anomoly from the average monthly temperature, in degrees celsius, and November 2014 is the peak in that green line just shy of 2015. It is the highest temperature anomoly since the 1997-1998 El Nino.

So what is going on? I'm not really sure...and would love to figure it out. Contact me if you can help me understand.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Guest Blogging!

Hollywood Beach (foreground) and the Fiero Marine Life Center (background). Photo courtesy of

So it surely appears that I've been allowing my own blog to lapse...this is my first post in the month of December!

But I've been guest-blogging up a storm! As part of a new effort to post monthly "Marine Science Topics of the Month" on the Feiro Marine Life Center (I serve on their board and also chair the Education and Research committee for the organization) blog, I authored two pieces in the past month or so: One on some observations of octopus at the mouth of the Elwha River, and another on the seasonal pattern of beach wrack on Hollywood Beach, adjacent to the marine life center. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The night-time intertidal at Freshwater Bay

A juvenile Octopus doeflini found foraging in the intertidal by one of my Oceanography class students

This is the third year in a row that I've offered a special night-time tide-pooling field trip to the students from my Peninsula College Introduction to Oceanography class. We had a great trip last night to Freshwater Bay, slipping it in between rain squalls. The wonderful thing about the winter night-time low tides is that you can see so much more, since organisms are not stressed by high temperatures and/or dessication. I was struck by two things:

1) Octopi! We saw two...the juvenile in the video above, which was out and about in the lower intertidal, and this one sheltering under a boulder:

2) The number and diversity of juveniles invertebrates and eggs that we observed. For this time of year it struck me as pretty out there. We say juvenile Hexactis, sharp-nosed crab, mollusc eggs of some kind, and this (dead) female Red Rock crab carrying an egg mass:

A few other images from the night:

The gunnels were plentiful...but I'm horrible at ID in the Pholidae family, so I'm not even going to try...


One of at least three Keyhole Limpets (Diadora aspera) we saw - all of them out in places they would never be in the summer during a low-tide. On this one we also were able to observe the commensal scale worm Arctonoe vittata

My favorite! The Northern Clingfish (Gobiesox maeandricus). Check out this interesting (and mildly disturbing) piece on its unique abilities.

and last, but not least, a great profusion of porcelain crabs (Petrolisthes sp.)