“Pew! Pew!” Squeak the Adorable Woodland Critters

A few weeks ago, B and I did some more exploring around Deception Pass State Park. It’s going to take us a while to properly explore – the thing spans two islands and has a myriad of trails.

This being a hot day, we decided we wanted beach. There was definitely beach. Also, some geology that hadn’t been in any of my guides.

Photo of the map at the trailhead, showing the Pass, beaches, and a small lake.

Portion of Deception Pass State Park map, showing West Beach.

Now, take a look at West Beach, and see if you can tell me what I spotted about it that made me go, “Yay, geology!!!” What do you expect to find there, based on the shape, features, and elevation of the terrain? I’ll give you the answer in our next installment. But I’ll hint that I knew I’d find the type of beach Washington isn’t exactly known for.

As we walked the trails at West Beach, we encountered a bit of forest beside Cranberry Lake. On the map, it’s basically the tip of the loop trail, where you see the dude going walkies. It’s a charming, somewhat eerie little coastal forest, and it resounded with strange cries.

There’s nothing quite like little woodland critters going “Pew! Pew!” to put a huge ol’ grin on your face. Now, I’m going to give you a chance to identify them before I show you them. Well, show you one of them. I didn’t get the little critter’s buddy, but I did get some lovely video and still images of one of them, and you will squee yourself hoarse, they are so cute.

Image is described in post.

The forest within which our little critters dwell.

This is a very rich, albeit small, patch of woods. You can tell it’s quite wet, what with all the ferns, Old Man’s Beard, and spruce and such. I think I see a madrona, too. Put it like this: you basically can’t have much more than a square inch of land around here that hasn’t got twelve billion plant species on it, unless it’s a rock, in which case it’s only ten billion. Having come from a place where you could go ages without seeing anything very green, this is still sometimes a little overwhelming to me. And when you’ve got creatures in all those plants making adorable noises, well, I melt into a little puddle. Good thing for you lot I can still hold the camera in a melted state, innit?

Adventures in ACE VIII: Senseless About Sedimentary

Please tell me you’ve set up a padded room so you can read these posts in safety. I’d be inconsolable if you did yourself an injury because of these explorations in the whacky world of ACE.

I’m telling you right now: don’t keep reading until you’ve rage-proofed your room.

You know enough Flood “geology” bullshit by now to know that nothing good can come of creationist ignoramuses talking about sedimentary rocks. So let’s ease in by noting some good news: turns out you can be a dentist if you’re a brown person in ACE world, as long as you’ve got the proper equipment. No, not that equipment – I mean the biological stuff. Y’know, the ol’ meat-n-taters. You women are probably too busy squeezing out babies to drill teeth.

Image shows a two-panel comic. First panel shows a dentist's office with the chair and dental equipment. A South Asian or African American dentist is poking in a blond white boy's mouth, asking, "Well now, Happy, what kind of filling would you like in your tooth?" Second panel is a close-up of the boy and the dentist. Happy is saying, "Strawberry! Ha-ha." The dentist says, "Ha-ha!"

Cartoon from ACE PACE 1086.

And what a horrible dental joke has to do with sedimentary rock, I’ll never know. I suppose it’s what happens when you’ve rotted your brain with too much Bible.

Anyway. The spectacularly ignorant Mr. Wheeler will now proceed to explain about sedimentary rocks. He tells us that the ocean floor’s lots like the continents. It’s got “mountains, hills, valleys, and plains as features of [its] surfaces.” He then says that “the ocean floor is covered mainly with sedimentary rock.” Which is a little deceptive. Yeah, the floor’s covered in lots of places with sediments, but those sediments aren’t all lithified, and the floor itself, along with most of the mountains and islands, is overwhelmingly basalt.

He then claims that the sediments on the ocean floor are mostly the same stuff as on the continents, aside from when they were deposited. “Sediment on the ocean floor, such as that shown by our core sample, has been deposited mainly since the Flood, while sediment covering continents was deposited mostly during the Flood.”

So. Much. Wrong.

Firstly: sediments on the continents vs. those on the ocean floor are pretty distinct. You’re not going to find alluvial, aeolian, fluvial, lacustrine, deltaic, tidal, lagoonal, and beach sediments in the deep ocean. Turbedites, reefs, biogenic oozes, and similar aren’t forming on land.

Secondly: while it’s true that sediments on the current ocean floor are young in comparison to most of the sedimentary layers on the continents, they’re still upwards of two hundred million years old in places. Sedimentary rock has been deposited on Earth for billions of years. Land sediments did not all form in one Flood event. They couldn’t have: there are miles-thick layers that could only have formed under the sea, over huge spans of time. Subaerial deposits, evaporites, and paleosols couldn’t have been deposited by Flood water.

Some of the statements this PACE makes are just head-slappingly ludicrous. “Strata of Earth’s sediment can be found even on the tops of the tallest mountains – one more evidence that the Flood once covered the entire Earth.” No, Mr. Wheeler. That notion may not have sounded quite so ignorant in the 19th century*, but plate tectonics has dealt that idea a mortal injury.

But that mountain o’ fail is but a speck as compared to this “explanation” of the Grand Canyon:

The waters of the Flood cut through newly deposited layers of sediment and formed the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

FFS. How do I disprove thee? Let me count (a few of) the ways: 1. Meanders. 2. Vertical walls. 3. Single river channel. 4. No slumping. 5. Where are the ginormous canyons carved by the self-same Flood on other continents, hmm? Oh, and let’s not fail to mention: 6. Aeolian sand dunes. 7 Lizard tracks. 8. Karst.

Shall I go on? We could be here for days.

Mr. Wheeler goes on to babble about bent strata. It’s a bit unfortunate that their illustration of bent strata looks more like lithified sand dunes.

Image shows a sandstone cliff. It's supposed to be illustrating bent strata, but looks more like cross-bedded sand dunes.

Bent strata photo from ACE Science PACE 1086.

“This bending and twisting,” we’re told, “was caused by powerful forces inside our Earth.” Do you want to know what those “powerful forces” are? Ha ha, this is ACE, silly. They can’t explain stuff like that, because God did it, and God works in mysterious ways. That’s not actually stated, but one gets the impression this is why they’re so ignorant of this stuff.

They can’t tell us what they are, but they’re certain “those forces were more active during and immediately after the Flood. Most of the major changes in strata were made then.” Fuck the evidence plate tectonics may be as young as 300 million years or as old as 1.6 billion years, amirite? Not to mention the fact a hella large amount of deformation was going on, sans Flood, since the earth cooled enough for magma to begin forming a crust.

Next, Mr. Wheeler gives us a rather risible precís of how things went during the Flood, by way of explaining how sediments become rocks. He cites three sources for all that water: from under the crust, from the vapor canopy, and from the ocean rising. I wonder how the oceans rose – I mean, if they’re a separate source of water, what mechanism caused them to rise? But we can’t expect people ignorant enough to keep on about the vapor canopy, long after their very own YEC pals proved it impossible, to come up with a plausible explanation for rising oceans.

But the real howler is when they claim the Ice Age happened during the Flood. I don’t think any other creationists have been quite this spectacularly stupid:

As the water fell, the warming effect of the canopy was gone, causing Earth’s temperature to fall rapidly also. Giant sheets of ice formed over the poles, Canada, and northern Europe, preventing the depositing of sediments. Animals, such as the wooly mammoth, were trapped and quick-frozen in the ice with their meals still in their mouths and stomachs.

Oy. Once again, I marvel at the astonishing amount of wrong ACE writers manage to stuff into a paragraph. For one thing, creationists have known since 1979 that the canopy would have boiled Earth. They’ve never been able to get around that, aside from ignoring physics completely. And if they fiddle with it to try to bring the temps down, they still run head-on into physics facts: that much water falling that fast from that height woulda become super-heated steam, not freezing rains.

As for glaciers preventing the deposition of sediment… sorry, ACE people, but YEC Michael Oard begs to differ. Let’s see… 20 km of sedimentary rock was laid down in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin near Newfoundland, Canada… Walt Brown sez lotsa debris from all over the world dumped on northern Europe, and Antarctica is lousy with sedimentary rock. Oh, and just to rub some salt in creationist wounds, Tiktaalik, a lovely transitional fossil, was found in the Arctic Circle. In sedimentary rock. Boo-ya.

Photo of Tiktaalik fossil in matrix. Image courtesy Ghedoghedo via Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)

Photo of Tiktaalik fossil in matrix. Image courtesy Ghedoghedo via Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)

As for the flash-frozen mammoths: pure, unadulterated bullshit. I mean, seriously.

All right, that’s enough sedimentary silliness for now. We’ll finish this nonsense next week. Stay tuned: you’ll be amazed at what they’ve done with stalagmites.

 

*. Even Leonardo da Vinci knew the Flood story was complete bollocks as a scientific explanation – and this was back in the 16th century. So I am being very, very generous.

UFD: Hey, Hoomin – Whatcha Doin?

You remember my luck with birds, right? I mean, normally the little bastards just hide in the trees and chirp at me merrily, knowing I can’t get a look at them, much less a good photo. They sing all the more lustily as my frustration winds to a fever pitch. Then they wait for me to give up and put the camera away. Once I’ve done that, they come sailing out of their hidey-spots, and flaunt themselves a bit as I curse and grab for the camera. Once I have it out and on and look up again, the buggers have vanished once again, leaving a trail of titters in their wake.

I did have a hummingbird buzz me on the porch a few weeks ago, even hovering patiently for a bit until I looked up, then hovering a bit more so I could admire it, before buzzing off. I think that happened because I didn’t have a camera at the time.

In other words, my luck with birds is generally rotten, and we only get to have this series because I’ve got a good zoom on this camera and can sometimes manage to ambush the little fuckers. But I rarely have an experience with a non-corvid or sparrow-type bird that I had at Mount Rainier in early August.

B and I had taken the Upper Palisides Lake trail down to Sunrise Lake, because vigorous exercise is just what the doctor ordered, and we do sometimes try to get the recommended dose. We’d admired the scenery, like so:

Image shows part of a pretty little mountain lake from water level, with tall fir trees and rugged mountain ranges framing and reflecting off it.

Sunrise Lake

and were just beginning to head back to the spur to the main trail when I heard a rustling near my head, and B remarked that I was being checked out by a curious bird.

I knew the little shit would fly off as soon as I made a move, because I had the camera out and on, but I turned cautiously anyway, and…

Image shows a fir tree with a very curious tan-chested bird with a dark bar across its eyes staring at us.

UFD I

There’s this curious bird which was not a corvid or a sparrow, and rather smaller than the former but larger than the latter, eyeballing us intently. It didn’t care a bit that we were humans and that it was wild. It didn’t seem to grok us as potential predators at all. And it apparently hadn’t gotten the avian memo detailing what to do in order to make Dana do frustrated noises.

I got a couple of shots in, quickly, as it jumped to a higher branch for a more panoramic look at us, and then it flew away.

Image is a gif showing the bird on a higher branch of the same tree, then the tree sans-bird.

UFD II

I had just enough time to begin the “Aw, shit. Oh well, at least I got a couple of pictures” inner monologue before it landed on the tree next to B for further ogling.

Image shows the same bird, now above us on an evergreen bough. It has a very short pointy beak.

UFD III

I was so afraid it would fly straight off that I didn’t give the camera time to do more than focus on it. I snapped before I could adjust the angle enough to deal with the weird late-afternoon lighting conditions that caused the sky to turn white in the camera’s opinion. But it’s a kinda neat effect.

I needn’t have been so hasty, because our birdie stayed up there for some time, happily inspecting us. And this final shot, taken before its curiosity was satisfied and it headed off to do its own thing, captured its attitude perfectly:

Image shows the same bird in the same evergreen bough, with its head tipped on its side.

UFD IV

Isn’t that the perfect, “Hey, hoomin – whatcha doin?” pose?

I’ve had crows and jays land nearby, check me out, decide whether or not I could be persuaded to provide food and/or entertainment. I’ve been stared at by sparrows, who are plenty used to people but are usually still skittish. And, as I said, there was that hummingbird, which for all the world appeared to be there simply to show off to the nearest available human just how awesome its hovering skills were. But this is the first time a bird in the wilderness that was not any of those things has expressed this much fearless interest. I swear, if I’d had something to feed it with, we’d have had a veritable Snow White Feeding the Birdies moment.

I hope you lot can tell me what species it is.

The Cataclysm: “Fully Down and Buried”

Geologists did a lot of talking to trees in the aftermath of Mount St. Helens’s eruption. They had a lot of questions, and the trees had a lot of answers*.

Few talked to the trees as extensively as Richard Waitt. He was investigating the blast deposits, and found the trees to be quite helpful. His work in the field led him to identify three primary layers: A1, the base, was pretty full of gravel. A2, the next level up, was a coarse sand, and the final, A3, a fine air-fall sand.** Throughout those layers were trees and bits thereof, and he queried them closely to figure out the progress of the lateral blast and how it had left its deposits.

Proximal downed tree, at Obscurity Lake 15 km north of Mount St. Helens, projecting to left beneath coarse layer A1, in turn overlain by layers A2 and A3 at right. Tree is darkened where tree was debarked and scorched where not protected by overlying layer A1. Photo by R.B. Waitt, Jr. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 266, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Proximal downed tree, at Obscurity Lake 15 km north of Mount St. Helens, projecting to left beneath coarse layer A1, in turn overlain by layers A2 and A3 at right. Tree is darkened where tree was debarked and scorched where not protected by overlying layer A1. Photo by R.B. Waitt, Jr. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 266, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Near the volcano, at distances around 6-12 kilometers (3.7 – 6.2 miles) from the vent, he found downed trees either fully buried by the gravelly bottom layer, or protruding at an angle from it. Those trees retained some of their bark even on the sides that had taken the direct brunt of the blast before they fell, unlike the stumps and standing trees that had been stripped completely. Since there was no blast deposit beneath them, those fallen trees must have come to rest either just before or during those moments the gravel was rattling down. The fact it hadn’t scoured the bark away as it landed told him that layer A1 wasn’t A+ at abrading horizontal surfaces. Both layers A1 and A2 had trouble achieving more than a thin layer atop the logs, due to curvature, and the lateral nature of the blast.

Even those thinnish deposits were somewhat protective. The bits of tree that stuck out from them fared rather worse than the buried bits: they lost their bark, and got a good scorching in the bargain. Scorching didn’t happen on parts already coated by A1, which shows A1 wasn’t such hot stuff. The scorching showed that “a flux of very hot gas” had blasted out from the volcano just after A1’s arrival. After all the baking and abrading happened during A1 and A2’s deposition, layer A3 dusted the results, showing it got there last.

Nothing in that sector survived. Rick was talking to dead trees. But when he moved on 10-12 kilometers (6.2 – 7.5 miles) north, he discovered something remarkable: life. The trees that had remained standing throughout the blast were perished, stripped naked of needles and badly scorched. But some had flexed, bent, and been buried by the blast deposits, much like they might be covered by an avalanche. When water began cutting gullies in the deposits a few days after the eruptions, the trees were freed of their tomb and whipped back upright, all green and lovely, if a bit put-upon. Even the delicate mosses on resident rocks survived, so long as they were decently covered, then quickly disinterred. These green, growing things supported the testimony of their dead relatives: that blast of searing-hot gas had certainly arrived only after the erosive front and layer A1. And that layer had provided the insulation necessary for some trees to survive.

Young fir tree that had been buried by the blast deposit of May 18 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Skamania County, Washington. June 8, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Young fir tree that had been buried by the blast deposit of May 18 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Skamania County, Washington. June 8, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Not that survival was simple, or even likely.

Further from the volcano, at around 15-25 km (9.3 – 15.5 miles), the blast had lost enough energy to stop carrying A1, but the erosive edge was still powerful enough to knock down some trees and turn others into snags. The fallen trees, buried beneath a nice layer of A2, held on to their bark. The snags weren’t so lucky: they lost the bark on sides facing the volcano, though only a meter or two above ground and up. The hot flux had arrived with layer A2 and got busy stripping and singing, but lagged the erosive edge. On the far end of the downed timber zone, the standing trees lost their needles and had their twig ends scoured by the blast, but their lower branches, coated by A2, retained dead, scorched needles. A2 couldn’t protect them from the hot gas it arrived with and was outlasted by, but did provide some defense.

Stratigraphic section atop distal downed tree, 15-25 km from Mount St. Helens. Layers A2 and A3 overlie bark. Rule for scale. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 267, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Stratigraphic section atop distal downed tree, 15-25 km from Mount St. Helens. Layers A2 and A3 overlie bark. Rule for scale. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 267, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

At the scorch zone, the layer of A2 became thin indeed. But the flow hadn’t lost its heat, hence the scorching. A coat of silty A3 plastered some of the seared branches, which were just as toasted as the bare ones. The hot flux, then, got there and left before A3 arrived.

    Scorched needles beneath layer A3 plastered on tree, about 20 km from Mount St. Helens. Needles beneath layer A3 are just as scorched as those not covered. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 268, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Scorched needles beneath layer A3 plastered on tree, about 20 km from Mount St. Helens. Needles beneath layer A3 are just as scorched as those not covered. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 268, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Those were the tales of trees covered by the deposits. Next, we’ll interview those trees that actually became deposits themselves.

 

*No illicit substances were involved. The trees didn’t actually talk. Everyone’s fine.

**Not beach sand – sand refers here to the size of the rock particles. This is sand-sized ash.

Previous: The Cataclysm: “The Path of Maximum Abrasion”

Next: The Cataclysm: “Stripped from the Proximal Forest”

References:

Lipman, Peter W., and Mullineaux, Donal R., Editors (1981): The 1980 Eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Washington. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1250.

 

Previously published at Rosetta Stones.

An Apt Analogy for Varieties of Creationist

I don’t know if any of you read Paul Braterman’s blog, Eat Your Brains Out. No, it’s not a blog about zombies, although occasionally Jesus is mentioned. It’s actually a blog about science and creationism, and I’ve now read it in its entirety. Great stuff within.

And, sometimes, a very funny and apt bit. Paul took on the arguments of mathematician and theologian John Lennox, who rejects this god-of-the-gaps nonsense, yet apparently associates with Douglas Axe, director of the Biologic Institute (part of the Discovery Institute; and Norman Nevin, a biblical literalist and Chairman of the Centre for Intelligent Design. Lennox took Lawrence Krauss to task for words about the Higgs boson being more important than God with a bit of a Ford analogy:

That is as wrong-headed as thinking that an explanation of a Ford car in terms of Henry Ford as inventor and designer competes with an explanation in terms of mechanism and law. God is not a “God of the gaps”,  he is God of the whole show.

And Paul took that analogy and ran with it to places where I’m sure Lennox would have preferred he not gone:

To pursue the Ford analogy further, Lennox believes that the car works because it is well designed, Axe believes that it works because there is a miracle-working mechanic inside the gearbox, and Nevin believes that it was sabotaged by the drivers’ grandparents.

Precisely. I don’t think anyone’s ever summed up the differences between old-school science-accepting theologian/scientists, intelligent design proponents, and Biblical literalists more succinctly. I laughed.

Image shows a blueprint for a Model T engine with God photoshopped in.

“The Engine of God” Original images courtesy Wikimedia Commons, photoshopped poorly by moi.

A Whole Lotta Shaking: Some Thoughts on Magnitude

So Sunday was a big day for earthquakes. In the wee hours of the ay-em, we had the West Napa Fault Zone (probably) cutting loose, and then, a bit later in the day, Peru got hit big-time. Thankfully, Peru’s quake was in a sparsely-populated area, and California’s was – well, California. They’ve been dealing with this stuff for half of forever. So while Sunday was dramatic for earthquake happenings, it wasn’t so bad as far as death and destruction.

But Cali got lucky – their quake was pretty small compared to Peru’s. Like, way smaller. The South Napa quake was a mere 6.0 – big, but not unimaginably huge. Peru’s was 6.9, same size as Loma Prieta (and we all know how awful that was).

Okay, you may think. 6.9. That’s not that bad.

Except that’s not how the scale works.

At magnitude 6.0, this quake is classed as a strong quake, but one of the unfortunate diagrams I’m seeing in media reports is that anything between a 6.0 and a 6.9 like the Loma Prieta quake are being lumped together on a bar graph as “strong”. The difference between a 6.0 and 6.9 is profound, and is a reason that we are not hearing about dozens or hundreds of people killed in the event. On the magnitude scale, the amount of energy released increases by about 30 times with each whole number. In other words, a magnitude 7.0 quake is just over 30 times more powerful than a magnitude 6.0, and a magnitude 8.0 is just over 30 times more powerful than a 7.0 (this make an 8.0 around a 1,000 times more powerful than a 6.0).

Yeow.

Those numbers can be hard to picture. So I came up with a bit of an analogy that may help. Picture yourself in a car, headed toward a solid wall (in this scenario, you’re a crash test dummy. Sorry). For the first run, you’re going Magnitude 6. We’ll say that’s 25 miles per hour.

Image shows a gray car with it's slightly-crumpled nose against a wall. The poor dummy has its face planted in the airbag.

Still from the video 2013 Dodge Dart / Fiat Viaggio | 25mph/40kph Frontal Crash Test by NHTSA | CrashNet1.

Okay, not so bad.

Now, Wikipedia tells me that a 7 is roughly 32 times larger, so we’ll go with Garry’s 30 figure and see where we end up. Hmmm, math… 25 x 32 … carry the ZOMG it’s 750 mph. We’re headed for a wall at 750 mph! We don’t have a crash test at 750 mph! Here’s the Mythbuster’s doing a 100 mph test and being appalled by the result.

Image shows a yellow car with its front half pretty much gone and its back half off the ground.

Mythbusters 100 MPH test. ZOMG WTF etc.

I love how their marker dealios look like earthquake focal mechanism symbols. Very apropos. And if this is what 100 mph can do to a car, you can image 750 mph would leave it, the wall, and half the neighborhood beyond in fragments. No wonder the Bay area was in such bad shape after the Loma Preita quake.

Okay. I hate to look, but we’ve gotta do it. Our next victim car is going to hit the wall at 1,000 times the speed of our first test. So we’ve leapt from 25 mph and a little mild damage to something that could wipe out the entire metro area. It’s certainly a much larger impact than the fastest crash test ever, which was only a paltry 120 mph.

Image shows a cloud of debris and one sadly intact wheel.

Crash test of a Ford Focus. Well, former Ford Focus.

Maybe we should’ve switched to planes, but even then…

So those are some pretty intense differences. It’s why we go from this:

Image shows a kitchen, with open cabinets and a lot of wine bottles scattered on the floor.

South Napa earthquake, 6.0. Photo courtesy Eiko’s Restaurant in Napa, used with permission.

To this:

Image shows a collapsed double-decker freeway.

Loma Prieta, 6.9. Image courtesy USGS.

To this:

Images shows downtown San Francisco, high-rises in ruins. It looks like Dresdan, Germany after the Allied bombing.

San Francisco Earthquake, est. 7.8. Image courtesy National Archives.

Now that we’ve had this little visualization exercise, I’m going to go crawl into bed and whimper, because I live in a place that expecting a 9.

Image shows a gray and white kitten on a pink blanket, on its back and looking terrified. Caption says, "Iz scared. mommy."

New at Rosetta Stones: Earthquake Safety Tips

Funny thing is, I’d been looking up real safety tips for surviving earthquakes when I was fact-checking our Christianists texts on the subject. And I learned that I had a lot of wrong-headed ideas. In light of the Napa earthquake that went on today, I figured I’d share those tips so that folks in seismically active areas can polish up on their earthquake survival.

Here’s the takeaway lesson, although you should read the whole thing so you know what to do before, during, and after:

Image shows the three steps essential to staying safe in an earthquake: drop, get under a sturdy piece of furniture, hold on until the shaking's over.

Excellent advice from the Great California ShakeOut. Click the image to visit their page and sign up for the drill.

The Cataclysm: “Stripped from the Proximal Forest”

A rather extensive forest became part of a directed blast deposit: that’s the summary. One moment, you’re a green and pleasant home for much of the local wildlife; the next, you’ve been rudely ripped apart and incorporated within a bunch of rock and ash by a volcano having a bad turn. So it goes.

When Rick Waitt traced the fate of Mount St. Helens’s magnificent forests, he found they’d had quite the adventure (aside from being knocked flat, bruised, battered, buried, and burnt).

Proximal downed tree, at Obscurity Lake 15 km north of Mount St. Helens, projecting to left beneath coarse layer A1, in turn overlain by layers A2 and A3 at right. Tree is darkened where tree was debarked and scorched where not protected by overlying layer A1. Photo by R.B. Waitt, Jr. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 266, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250.

Proximal downed tree, at Obscurity Lake 15 km north of Mount St. Helens, projecting to left beneath coarse layer A1, in turn overlain by layers A2 and A3 at right. Tree is darkened where tree was debarked and scorched where not protected by overlying layer A1. Photo by R.B. Waitt, Jr. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 266, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Within the down-timber zone, it was clear some rather spectacular force had been applied. It wasn’t piddly little wood fragments and needles that became deposits, but entire tree trunks. Whole limbs had been ripped off, splintered, and subsequently dumped. The heavier bits, as heavy bits tend to do, remained close to the ground as the blast carried them along. As the flow lost energy, the heavy bits of layer A1, including its compliment of ex-trees, settled out first, fining upward as the deposit accumulated. Mind you, when I say “fined upward,” I don’t mean they got all demure and small, even close to the volcano. No, the ex-tree bits in subsequent layers within layer A2 and the pieces that landed atop layer A3 were as mind-blowingly large as 75 centimeters (29.5 inches). Not only that, but the way they landed show they were first torn loose by that erosive front of the blast, then heaved high in the air by the following phase, held airborne by convection, then unceremoniously dumped moments later.

Warner Bros., I think, could have animated that sequence in the tradition of Wiley E. Coyote to fine effect.

Stratigraphic section atop distal downed tree, 15-25 km from Mount St. Helens. Layers A2 and A3 overlie bark. Rule for scale. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 267, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Stratigraphic section atop distal downed tree, 15-25 km from Mount St. Helens. Layers A2 and A3 overlie bark. Rule for scale. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 267, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Other branches, pine cones, and bits ripped from the unfortunate forest were light enough to continue traveling. They sailed the volcanic winds even beyond the boundary of layer A2, past the devastated area, and came to rest in a bed of silty layer A3, then were covered with a blanket of the following air-fall deposits left by the central eruption column. Some of those fragments were as long as 15 centimeters (6 inches). Imagine how much force it requires to take pieces of wood half the length of a school ruler and keep them in the air for twenty minutes or more.

Yeah.

Mixed up in all that were smaller remains, a mulch of fir needles, splinters, and twigs. In most areas, they can be found in all three layers, but to the north the energy of the blast was so ferocious it wouldn’t let them settle out until layer A3 did. Almost everything was burnt black, no matter where it landed, showing it all got seared before coming to rest. Only the needles and branches flying through the southern edge of the east side of the blast managed to come out without a thorough scorching, showing the blast cloud wasn’t so hot there. Still fast and furious enough to rip trees apart and turn them from biology into geology, though.

Thus ends the story of The Forest that Was. From here on, our relationship with the blast deposits will get decidedly rocky.

Scorched needles beneath layer A3 plastered on tree, about 20 km from Mount St. Helens. Needles beneath layer A3 are just as scorched as those not covered. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 268, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250.

Scorched needles beneath layer A3 plastered on tree, about 20 km from Mount St. Helens. Needles beneath layer A3 are just as scorched as those not covered. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 268, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

 

Previous: The Cataclysm:”Fully Down and Buried”

References:

Lipman, Peter W., and Mullineaux, Donal R., Editors (1981): The 1980 Eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Washington. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1250.

 Previously published at Rosetta Stones.

 

Ha Ha Ha Whoops. Also: Help Me Keep an Eye on Creationists

I’ve had myself so buried in Christianist textbooks, frantically trying to get this talk pulled together, when I wasn’t compulsively reading about the awful things police in Ferguson are up to now, I haven’t thought to keep an eye on my email… and it turns out that due to unforeseen circumstances, FtBCon’s postponed anyway. We’ll be trying again in a few months. So what does this mean? It means you’ll still get a talk on Why Geology Matters – To Creationists, only it will be a much better talk, because I’ll actually have gotten through these books. Well, at least through all the geology bits of the books. Ye gods, it takes ages to fact-check and debunk this stuff now that we’re in to the portions of Earth science Christianists love to hate.

Image shows an orange kitten sitting in a terra cotta pot, with one paw over an eye. Caption says, "Whew! Close Call!"

Thank you, all of you who helped me calculate mammoth populations! You’re amazing. You’ll also love the resulting post, although it’ll take a while before it comes up in the queue – trying to do this stuff in order.

Now I’m going to ask you all now to do me another favor: over the next few months, would you keep an eye out for any news about creationists and geology? It can be things like creationists infiltrating the American Geophysical Union or Geological Society of America meetings (again), creationists trying to sneak “Flood geology” in or fighting earth science standards, creationists trying to pull the wool over journal editors’ eyes and attempting to slip religion in to science publications, anything like that. You can send tips to dhunterauthor at gmail.

Some of you who are interested may want to join me for a private dry-run of said talk when it’s finished – if you’d like to help me not suck in public, and be one of the elite, exclusive ETEVers who gets to hear it first, let me know. We’ll set up a Google Hangout and do the thing when I’ve got it all written. And, if there’s room on the schedule and you’d be interested in joining me for a panel on Women in the Geosciences, also let me know that.

But wait! There’s More!

For the next few days, I’m preparing the Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education series relaunch, and also hating my uterus, and going to go photograph All The Sea Mammals for your squees and enjoyment. I’ll also have a social justice post up on our fucked-up police state and ways you can help soon. And there’ll be a little something over at Rosetta Stones eventually this week. I have a super-awesome geology comic book I was sent that I’m going to review for you, probably early next week. People, you have no idea how excited I am about it! But you will know. I’ll also be reviewing a book I read the other morning that will give you a whole other look at the Christianist homeschool life. It’s called Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years. And yes, it’s as whacked as it sounds.

Also, YES I AM WRITING A BOOK ON MOUNT ST. HELENS I PROMISE. I know you won’t stop asking, and it makes me happy you don’t, but I figured I’d better reassure you. I’ll be jumping back into that series shortly as well. And yes, finishing the Seattle Seahawks rings. SO MANY THINGS TO DO.

There will also be a post coming soon on that awesome bird at Mount Rainier, and muchmuch more. Good times ahead! Now if you’ll excuse me for just a bit, I need to lose the last of my hair to the geology chapters in ES4 and continue arguing with my uterus over paying attention to the pain relievers I’m feeding it…