Monday, June 13, 2016

When pigs fly, cats and dogs consort together, and dolphins frolic in Port Angeles Harbor

Photos of Common Dolphins in Port Angeles Harbor.  Courtesy of the Island Adventures blog.

Today Island Adventures posted a blog describing sightings of common dolphins in Port Angeles Harbor, which was picked up and pushed back out on the Feiro Marine Life Center Facebook page. First off, were these really Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis)?  I really have no idea, and I would presume and hope that the folks on the Island Adventures boat would know quite a better than I would.  There is apparently some confusion about this species on the west coast, with at least one source saying they don't occur on the west coast, but others saying that there is.  I suppose they also might be Pacific White-sided Dolphins, which would be rare but not unheard of, at least in this general area?   Regardless, I am going to assume that these were common dolphins...in the end it doesn't really matter for my purposes.

Common Dolphins are typically associated with slightly warmer water than we are accustomed to here, and so these photos caught my attention, since just last week I was discussing elevated seawater temperatures with my colleague Eric Grossman, who was mentioning how warm the water was up near his home in Bellingham Bay.  This led me to remember that a few years back, when I was working on a climate change impacts assessment for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, I put together some Matlab scripts to automate the download and analysis of temperature data collected at NOAA tide stations.  So I decided to run my old scripts again.

The NOAA tide gauge in Port Townsend, WA.  Image courtesy of NOAA

So this script downloads the entire available record of hourly temperature measurements from a NOAA tide guage (see the photo above of the P.T. gauge, located on the ferry dock in Port Townsend).  In most cases temperature is recorded a few feet below the surface.  In some cases the record is incomplete or short, but for some of our stations in our area the record typically goes back to the mid-to-late 1990's and can be fairly complete (i.e. no major gaps).  Lets look at a selection of those, starting with Seattle:
First, Seattle (above).  So what you are seeing here is the average monthly seawater temperature in blue, and then in red the anomaly from the monthly average.  In this case I've specifically defined the anomaly as being the deviation from the monthly average for the period from 1999-2008, for consistency with the "Marine Water Condition Index" used in Puget Sound.  Focus on the red line.  What this tells us is that seawater temperatures have been hovering around 1C above average since late 2014 (when the "blob" came ashore), after you account for and remove our "usual" annual signal (i.e. warm in summer, cold in winter).  
And its not just a Seattle thing.  The record above is from Port Townsend, Washington, where you see much the same signal.  Note how very warm the last two winters were in particular!
The signal is quite a bit more muted in Port Angeles (above; i.e. the anomalies are as large, but not as unprecedented in the record) and on the outer coast (Toke Point, shown below).  My take is that this is a reflection of just a great degree of water temperature variability as you move out of the Strait to the outer coast:

The record above is from Toke Point, at the mouth of Willapa Bay.  Note as well that on the outer coast the average temperatures are much warmer in general than in the inland waters. Back to the point, though...and moving on to a different way of looking at these data:
Above is a different way of looking at these data, shown here for Port Angeles - every hourly measurement available plotted together on an annualized axis.  I've bolded the temps from this year to show where they sit in the "usual" pattern.  Last year is also highlighted with the heavier blue line...also very warm.  So whats clear here is that the last two years in Port Angeles have been pretty warm when you put the whole record into context.  The real winner, though, in looking at these water temperature data though is up in Cherry Point, near the Canadian border:

The anomalies suggested here are so huge as to be unbelievable.  Is this true?  It certainly is consistent with Eric saying that "its warm"...but this is quite something.  Below are this year and last year's hourly data plotted together...really gives you a sense for how dramatically warm it is compared to the last 20 years, at least during the non-summer months:



So, circling back.  Common Dolphins in Port Angeles Harbor?  Are these dolphins taking advantage of these warm conditions to move into new space in the Salish Sea?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Light and sediment in the coastal ocean

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Our dive site F1, roughly 1km east of the Elwha River mouth, before (top; summer 2011) and during (bottom; summer 2013) dam removal
Included among the many things that the Elwha dam removal project is teaching us is how sediment can interact with the community of living things in the coastal environment. In particular we are interested in the role that turbidity, due to fine sediment held in suspension, played during the height of the dam removal period (2012-2014) in driving changes to the marine algae community in the Elwha nearshore. The video set above shows, for example, what we saw at many of our sites scattered around the delta - places that had coarse substrate suitable for algae to attach to...but suppressed algae growth during dam removal. The answers to these sorts of questions go beyond the Elwha in regards to their importance. Globally, humans are changing the movement of sediment from the land into the coastal oceans, ergo we may also be altering coastal ecology on a grand scale via this sediment mechanism.

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What turbidity can do to light - a video shot in May 2012 at the same site as the videos at the top of this post. Dark!

To get a better handle on the movement of fine sediment from the Elwha River into the coastal zone Andrea Ogston (from UW's Sediment Dynamics Lab) and I proposed a project to Washington Sea Grant, which was funded (full disclosure: since I work for WSG I am not funded by the project, but do act as a co-PI). The project continues the Sediment Dynamics Group's long history of work in the Elwha nearshore tracking fine sediment dispersal, but builds on that by adding in to the mix better measurements of light in the shallow coastal area around the Elwha River mouth, and partnerships with the coastal ecologists working on the project (like Helen Berry and team from the Department of Natural Resources, and Steve Rubin, Melissa Foley and Nancy Elder from the US Geological Survey).


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Emily Eidam from the UW's sediment dynamics group collects a sediment sample from the sea floor with a Shipek sampler.

Last week was the first in a series of cruises on the UW's R/V Clifford A Barnes in order to collect bottom samples (i.e. see the video above), sample the water column for turbidity and other parameters, and also deploy a series of moorings specifically designed to measure sea-floor light:


Emily with a custom made mount and light measurement cluster


Looking down at the light measurement cluster - three HOBO light intensity sensors, and two Odyssey PAR sensors (provide by Washington Department of Natural Resources) 

A few more photos from the cruise are below:

A juvenile bivalve (probably Clinocardium?) in fresh mud deposits


Sediment samples!  Ready to go...


The spacious lab on the Barnes


UW undergraduate Morgan Mackay hauling the CTD.  Bachelor Rock is in the background


Barnes, side view


Cruise plan and station map













Friday, March 18, 2016

Bottle in the sand

Finding a bottle on the beach, or having someone else find one of my bottles, is straight-up exciting for me. The possibilities! So you can imagine my delight when I spotted a hint of glass poking up through the lower intertidal at a section of beach on the Elwha River delta. This particular location is one that I've been working at for almost 10 years, and has been rapidly eroding during that time. Here are some profiles and a time-series of beach position for this section of beach:

The time-series of beach position in this case goes back to February 2011 and suggests an average erosion rate of 2-3 meters/year...

I dug at the little hint of glass, which was sitting at the base of the active part of the beach, in the upper part of what we call the "low-tide terrace" here...in this case a sort of low-sloping feature that is in the lower intertidal and is covered with large clasts and old rip-rap:

The red arrow marks the location where I was digging. Here is another perspective, with the location of the bottle mapped on to one of Andy Ritchie's PlaneCam orthos from 1 August 2015:

and zoomed in a bit:

and I was amazed to dig up a completely clean and unbroken Clorox bottle:

I used Clorox's great heritage bottle guide to date the bottle to 1951-1954. The bottle was actually lodged under a small boulder, but was surrounded by what appeared to be old lagoon sediments. Looking back at some of the historic imagery its clear that the final resting place for this bottle was probably the edge of "Beach Lake", a once-upon-a-time river channel of the Elwha, that transitioned into a lagoon, and over time has shrunk as the delta has eroded. Here is a map at the same scale as the zoomed August 2015 map above, but using an image from 1939:

and two others at the exact same scale from 1965:

and 1977:

Is it possible that this bottle was somehow discarded into this lagoon/lake, and was lost in the lagoon-edge muds for some time? Eventually in that scenario, the barrier started to erode, burying the bottle. Here is the image from 2000:

This image suggests that the bottle was probably lying underneath a few meters of sand and gravel as the beach retreated. The process is continuing. This winter has led to rapid erosion of that section of shoreline, exposing the bottle but continuing the process of making Beach Lake smaller. Between mid-February and mid-March another storm event overwashed the berm, knocking the elevation down and pushing beach sediment almost fully across Beach Lake:

and here is the overwash deposit from that event (or events?) that occurred between mid-February and mid-March of this year, with an outline for clarity:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

another giant passes...Doug Inman

Look at these guys studying beaches...in 1948! We are all just poorly-dressed copy-cats. Dr. Inman on the left, looking dapper. Photo from The San Diego Union Tribune

This article in the New York Times is a really nice summary of the massive contributions that Doug Inman made to coastal science, science diving, nearshore sediment transport and more.

I love this one..."this is not the approach recommended by Doug Inman". Photo from http://geology.uprm.edu/Morelock/coastref.htm

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kalaloch Beach

A few weeks ago while surveying Kalaloch Beach I was struck by the loss of wood from the upper beach. Below, for example, is a 12 March 2014 photo of a pile of large wood pressed up against an old wooden bulkhead that protects the trail running down from the lodge to the beach. In this photo Casey Nattinger, who I was working with alongside some students from the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center, stands atop a pile of large wood, which is itself perched on a pile of accreted sand:

and below is a photo of the same feature (from a slightly different perspective), taken on 16 January 2016. Use the wooden fence for reference. The wood, and much of the sand, has been removed:

The loss of the wood from this beach is either a cause or a consequence (or perhaps a bit of both), of erosion of the beach and bluff. Here is a profile collected just south of the wooden bulkhead:

which suggests meters of erosion of both the beach and bluff in the two years since the photo above from 2014 was shot. Its hard to say how big a deal this is...its likely that this beach erodes and recovers each year, and I've never surveyed this beach in January before. But the loss of the wood likely is important. Here is why: The video at the very top of this post was shot yesterday, 11 February 2016 at 3:30 pm, when the tide gauge in La Push was reading a still water level of about 2.9 m above MLLW. The water, driven by set-up due to large waves, was easily working away at the base of the bluff, which sits somewhere around 4.0m above MLLW. Presumably, in past years, some wood would have remained along the base of the bluff to helped to dissipate some of the energy prior to it striking the base of the bluff. So where did the wood go? Here is the water level time-series from La Push for the last month:

which suggests that yesterday's high tide (the last high tide in the time-series) really wasn't all that high compared to those that have happened over the last month (and indeed the whole winter). In other words, it is likely that the ocean has been spending a good bit of time on the upper beach. Note in the video at top how easily those large pieces of wood are moved by the combination of water level (floating the log) and wave energy. The mass of large wood that had been loaded against the upper beach here was floated away. Probably as a result, here is what the base of the bluff looks like as of 11 February 2016:

That sort of cupping at the base of bluff will precede failure, and as happens in all too many cases on the coast, there is investment (the cabins at the iconic Kalaloch lodge) in the way:

how long this site has isn't clear, but bluff erosion doesn't grow back...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A real flood season at Elwha

The plot above of river flow from the McDonald Bridge gage on the Elwha River looks so very different then that from previous winters. We've had multiple flows above 10K cfs, three that have exceeded 20K, and one that went above 30K cfs. The river has spent a good bit of time above the median flow based on records dating back >100 years.

I've got a camera up at Fox Point watching the river mouth, and its been a fun ride this winter will all of this water pushing through. The mouth has been making a lot of changes...check it out below. What you see here are the average of individual photos taken every 30 minutes during daylight hours. This helps to adjust for variations in lighting and water level associated with tides, and better visualize the actual morphology change at the river mouth:

The timeline of this video aligns with the plot above - 90 days. I've also added notations to the slides on days when flow falls into one of three bins: >10K cfs (but less than 20K), >20K cfs (but less than 30K), and >30K cfs.

In particular what I think is cool is that the video suggests that the river is building new bars (visible by the end of the video emerging above the waterline) at locations seaward of the mouth position in early November...probably due to the at the mouth building on top of sediment that was pushed off of the delta during the large floods of mid-November. To better control for water level here is a photo taken at the the lowest part of the daylight tide on 6 November 2015..the water level was about 0.8 m MLLW according to the P.A. gauge:

and here is a photo taken at the same water level (+/- 10cm according to the P.A. gauge) on 1 February 2016:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pacific Anamolies

Had the chance to attend the Pacific Anamolies Workshop at the University of Washington last week. I went with two goals:

1) get the latest on the progression of this year's positive ENSO event, and particularly anything relevant to its coastal impacts on the west coast of the U.S. Turns out that most of the ENSO stuff presented was mostly focused on temperature, not so much on coastal impacts...but it was interesting none-the-less. The full proceedings of the workshop can be viewed here: http://uwtv.org/pacificanomaliesworkshoptwo/

2) Try to connect some very warm temperature observations we've made at Elwha to other datasets from around the Pacific. That is the topic of the poster I presented (see above), and was somewhat fruitful.

In the poster above I label three "events" measured at depths of ~30 to 60 feet in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca. Event "C", and the winter that proceeded, was the one that everyone had in their data, and everyone was talking about. This was associated with the on-shore movement of the infamous "Blob" in the fall of 2014. The on-shore movement of this warm water elevated temperatures in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (and in Puget Sound, and BC for that matter) for the whole winter...by a lot.

Events "A" and "B" in that record remain somewhat of a mystery, even though they were pretty darn warm events that each lasted about a week. And again, this is at depth, not at the surface. Still trying to figure out those two.