Thursday, April 12, 2012

Flying over the Elwha

Before graduate school, before moving to Santa Cruz, we lived here in Port Angeles and I worked for the Surfrider Foundation. In that capacity I developed a project whereby volunteers could go out and photograph the beach at set locations using defined protocols. The idea was to develop a consistent visual record of change. Sadly, I've recently discovered that the web-based portal that we developed to host the photos has been taken down, but the protocol is still in use (more on that in future posts).

Part of that program involved getting volunteer pilots to fly photographers over the shoreline, and I ended up doing that a few times between 2003-2006. And it turns out that its quite fun to do AND some of the pilots who volunteered their time are still into it. So a few days ago I got a call from Richard Watkins, who has flown me around numerous times to check out the Elwha from the air, take photos, and look at the various processes shaping the coastal zone. And, on Tuesday, we went up again, and it was beautiful.

The photos collected from the air and on the beach have turned out to be quite valuable to many in the research community. They've appeared in publications and reports, and have been used to guide our thinking regarding how the Elwha is evolving, to establish a baseline against which change can be measured, and even to understand the management of Ediz Hook (more on that in a future blog post).

Some images from that flight are here. It was a pretty calm day, but the river below the dams was pretty turbid, and there was a defined plume. At the middle of every ebb tide, the plume whips around to the west and diffuses a bit (you can see the plume migrating back and forth in one of our timelapse videos), and that was the state in which we found it (the low tide was about two hours after our flight). The features in the plume were amazing. We also flew up the valley to check out the two (former) reservoirs. I've included a photo of the lower reservoir here, which is now fully drawn-down with river flow throughout.

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