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!