Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mom comes to visit!

Two weeks ago I was paid a visit by a very special lady named Mom! She flew in on the last day of my field work in Long Beach, WA so I swung by the airport and picked her up on the way back south to Corvallis. We didn't really have any particular plans for the week so we decided to play it by ear about what adventures to embark on during her stay. Coming from Ohio, it was no surprise that the first trip she wanted to take was to the dramatic Oregon coast. I haven't really spent much time in Southern Oregon, so we (Mom, Dave, and I) headed down to Sunset Bay for a night of camping.

The area was amazing! It consisted of a small bay that was very well protected by a combination of the surrounding topography and rocks offshore. There were several trails in the park, but by the looks of them, they were not often frequented by hikers... we had to literally bushwhack through the coastal forest, tripping over branches, vines, roots, and spider webs, to catch a glimpse of the areas less viewed.

Needless to say, it was worth the trouble. After crawling out of the bushes we found ourselves balancing along cliffs that provided spectacular views of a beautiful sapphire blue sea armored with jagged rocks just offshore. There was also a lighthouse located on a nearby island. We made this our primary destination of the hike. Another island was actually connected to the mainland by a small tomobolo. Dave and I scaled the side of the cliff (which was even harder to get back up!) to get down to it and got some pretty good shots of the lighthouse in the distance. The geology in this area was just fantastic! Huge slabs of rock have been tilted up ~90 degrees and you can see the different layers eroding at their own pace depending on the make-up of their deposited material.
When we reached the lighthouse we were surprised to find many of the dead, leafless trees had become home to large, nesting cormorants. As if it couldn't get more osprey was perched just below them on a branch. He was scanning the shallow water below in search of a fish to snatch up for dinner. Much of the afternoon was spent watching the baby birds bonding with their mothers and hoping for the opportunity to capture a shot of the osprey in action.

The island on which the lighthouse sits was inaccessible to the public. A rickety bridge connects the island to the mainland, but it is fenced off. Because of rapid erosion occurring on the island, the lighthouse has been rebuilt 3 times and its most recent construction was completed in 1934. Unfortunately, this little beacon had the similar fate as many other lighthouses and in 2006 it was retired.

For those bird lovers reading this blog....I'm sure you're wondering if we ever actually saw the osprey leave his perch. The good news is yes we did! He took flight and dove into the water, capturing an unsuspecting fish and carrying him off. The bad news is that we were also unsuspecting and missed the best shots. We were, however, able to document the tail end of the catch (see picture below).

And of course...what would Sunset Bay be without its sunsets! We grabbed a bottle of vino and watched the sun go down in all its glory. We then headed back to the campsite and sipped on more wine and listened to music on Mom's iphone while keeping warm by the fire. What a great night.

Monday, August 24, 2009

surveying the graveyard of the pacific

The second week of our field work (Aug 2-8) this summer was conducted on the Long Beach peninsula, WA and Clatsop Plains, OR. Long Beach is a very flat area that (for the most part) has been accreting into the sea for many decades. I usually find this area to be a bit boring from a photographic standpoint because there is a lack of the dramatic geologic features that I have become so spoiled by in Oregon. Steep, eroding bluffs and beautiful cliffs, which drop off into a churning sea were replaced by expansive, flat beaches that were sometimes backed by sand dunes.
view of the wide beaches of Long Beach, WA

view of the dune grasses, which are primarily responsible for sand capture in the dunes of Long Beach

We had a successful week and were able to collect all of the bathymetry and land-based topography data as planned. I was actually really, really excited for this week because we were going to have to launch the boats from the marina near the mouth of the Columbia River and drive out through the 2 jetties that open the river up to the ocean. This is traditionally known to be a dangerous area because of the large sandbar that migrates across the mouth of the jetties. During large wave events, this is even the place where the US Coast Guard conducts their turbulent water vessel training! I imagined it to be similar to the other jetty crossings we have already done...but with more intensity! Unfortunately (or probably fortunately for my safety) "jetty day" was an extremely calm day and (with the exception of a small swell) it was actually difficult to even tell where the harbor ended and the ocean began! So while I was finally able to check off crossing the Columbia River bar from my list of things I must do, it was not quite as I had imagined it...

pushing the pwcs out of the water...this is my least favorite part of the job...

pushing the pwc into the water to launch for data collection

the USGS brought up some dry suits to try out instead of the wetsuits

launching the boat in the surf zone

everyday we get many beach folk who are curious about what we're doing

'guns' (our pwc) posing for the camera before he goes out to ride the waves

After completing our work in Long Beach we moved back south to Clatsop Plains near the city of Astoria, OR. On the way, we had to cross my favorite bridge, theAstoria-Megler, that spans the gap between Oregon and Washington. I've seriously never been so excited to drive across a bridge before!! It's a little less than 5 miles long and about 1/3 of it towers above the Columbia River and then quickly losses elevation to become nearly level with the water.

Astoria-Megler Bridge

When we arrived to perform our beach surveys in Clatsop Plains we were greeted by more wide beaches and dunes. However, I really enjoy this area so I had no problem being stuck here for the day. On one of the beaches (Fort Stevens State Park) are the remains of a sunken ship, the Peter Iredale, that wrecked in 1906 off the mouth of the Columbia River. This area is no stranger to ship wrecks. In fact, it is called the graveyard of the Pacific because of it's unpredictable, extreme weather accompanied by large waves and treacherous sandbars that migrate in and out of the river.
sand dunes in Northern Oregon

topography survey

Peter Iredale's last resting place

Another awesome event this week was the migration of the sooty shearwaters! Millions of dark grey birds flooded the sky and waters just offshore as they migrated up the coast. We even saw thousands of them sitting directly beyond the surf zone while getting pounded by the breaking waves. We thought for sure that we would see a lot of them wash up dead on the beach the next day, but there was nothing...

There were so many on the water that I was worried that I was actually going to run over some of them! They always seemed to dive beneath the water or take flight right before I was on top of them! On the last day in this area, I was on the land-based crew and there were millions of birds all over the beaches!! It was funny to see all the different kinds of birds (gulls, pelicans, and shearwaters) hanging out together on the sand. We had to drive through a few very large groups of them and when we came near, they filled the sky! It was such an amazing sight to see them effortlessly floating just outside the truck windows!