From Frogs, Logs, Dogs, Slogs, Bogs, Hogs, and Pollywogs - It's the Methow Conservancy Blog!
Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Armchair Geology: Notes from Class 2 with Eric Bard

By Keith Douville, student in the class

Hello again, another blog following the Geology of the Pacific Northwest class.  Our class this week was focused on “Methow Mysteries, Rocks, Geologic Events, and Connections.”  This time around we worked to draw correlations from the big picture to our corner of Washington and narrow the focus to our observations locally.  Students brought in rocks from around the Valley to observe and discuss.  This homework assignment of finding rocks was designed to get us comfortable looking at rocks and excited about local finds.  It did just that, with many folks bringing in great specimens to share.    
We began with a few questions to keep us thinking about the big picture.  I will list the questions here and follow them up with answers at the end.  Take the quiz and see how you do!
1)     What is the difference between a Passive and Active Margin?
2)     What major ocean opened up to change the Pacific coast from a passive to an active margin?
3)     What specific activity creates volcanic arcs?
4)     When did the eastern boundary crescent basalts arrive in geologic time:  Permian, Cretaceous, or Eocene?  (Hint: the times are listed from oldest to newest). 
5)     What fault divides the Okanogan and the Methow, running roughly from pipestone through 8 mile creek?
All of our sciences have roots in geology, as it is the foundation on which all natural events occur.  There are many good resources out there for geology students, and basic textbooks are a good place to start.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money, as often these texts can be found cheaply second hand at thrift stores or online.  One we discussed is Geology of the Pacific Northwest, by Orr and Orr.  Another more casual read that was discussed between students was The Restless Northwest: A Geological Story, by Williams.  When purchasing books keep in mind that many changes have occurred to our understanding of geology in the last few decades, so try to find one that discusses plate tectonics as this is relatively recent in our understandings of the Earth. 
So what parts of science have contributed to this understanding of geology?  Petrology is the study of rocks and is obviously valuable.  The identification of isotopes and their decay can help us determine radiometric ages.  Strontium and Rubidium ratios have helped us to determine where the approximate coastline of the ancestral continent of North America existed before the accretion of younger terranes.   The identification of geologic structures such as faults along terrane boundaries, areas of deformation, or folding can help us decipher changes and the timing of changes that occurred in our area.  Fossils can help date rocks to certain times, as can radiometric dating.  The stratigraphy of rocks and their environments can help us understand the dates of events, as layers are deposited at different times.  Just remember that the “top” may have once been at the bottom and that entire layers can be flipped or folded.  Finally, uniformitarianism is an important concept in geology.  This means that what we see happening in our world today can lead us to conclusions about what happened in the past, as we can assume that many of the same processes occurred to create similar features.
Here in the Methow one of the major events that occurred was the fore arc basin.  The basin that occurred between island arcs allowed for deep deposits of sediment to form rocks.  This was later uplifted as the area was squeezed between accreting terranes.   
The oldest rocks in our area are typically oceanic rocks from the Hozameen terrane.  These rocks were once part of the ocean floor and date from the Paleozoic to Jurassic time.  These basalts are often metamorphed, identified by a green color.  Radiolarians rich in silicas in deep water often form layers of chert (microcrystalline quartz) within these rocks.  These cherts provide evidence for a western source from the Hozameen Terrane for some strata in the Methow Basin fill (eg. Virginia Ridge formation).  
Next, in our general stratigraphy, came the Newby or Twisp formations in the late Jurassic.  These argillites (or more informally shale and volcanic rocks are from early island arcs and the surrounding ocean rocks.  These can be metamorphed later into other rocks and they can be a challenge to identify at times.  Remember that green rocks often indicate this metamorphism.  The red seen on some of these rocks usually points to iron oxide (rusting) on the rock surfaces and to get a good look break them open with a hammer (use safety glasses).  Drawing their name from Newby Creek, these rocks have larger mineral formations speckled amid smaller particles.  The sharp angles in the fragments in some of the volcanic breccias may form at the base of lava flows or as mud flows and the fragments have not had time to round as do river stones.  Some of the more violent explosions formed tuffs, although the exact location of ancient eruptions in not clear.  We are talking about millions of years ago after all!  Many of these rocks can be sedimentary, with volcanic parentage.  They become cemented together with silicas, iron, and calcite.  They can contain fossils, so keep hunting out there, you may find a few.  In fact, dinosaur fossils have not been found in Washington to date, but it seems likely that if found they would be in sedimentary rocks in the Methow area.  Find one and you will be famous!
Conglomerates and shale on top of Virgina Ridge

Close-up of shale (and bitterroot) on Virginia Ridge
Following the Newby rocks are the Fore arc basin fills.  These sedimentary sandstones, conglomerates, and shales were deposited over time between other formations and are of marine and stream origins.  They occur from different time periods ranging around the Cretaceous.  Some examples of these are in Virginia Ridge and Winthrop sandstones, and the Buck Mountain and Paterson Lake areas.  Some are comprised of more fine materials and are known as siltstones.  Many of the parent materials are of volcanic origin but as currents can move particulate great distances in the ocean it can vary.  Some argillites can be present, and we often see conglomerates in this formation which differ from breccias as the larger pieces contained within are rounded.  Remember that the conglomerates have rounded aggregate and indicate high energy rocks (think stones tumbling in a stream) and breccias have sharp aggregate and are from deposits that have not transported far or been eroded by water.  Many of the rocks in these formations are formed in submarine fans and under ocean mudslides.  Unique index fossils can be found in these rocks as well, which help us date them and learn about ancient extinct life such as Ammonites.  
The Midnight Peak Coast range volcanoes deposited volcanic rocks on sedimentary rocks, shown in places such as Goat Wall.  These are volcanic andesites. 
The local Pipestone Formation, which are mainly conglomerates, not soapstone, are formed by erosion from Okanogan batholith rocks to the east and were later cut out by glacial melt water.  Plant fossils like the extinct Dawn redwood can be found in them.  They weathered into pipe shapes and thus the name of the formations.  Zircon crystals in sandstones formed in the cretaceous period about 70 million years ago, but the dating of these rocks could be just dating the older minerals which make them up.  Any way you date them, they are still the youngest sediment stone found within the Methow. 
Throughout time, intrusions of igneous rocks appear as granitic rocks, some from lava flows and explosive events and some as slower cooling subterranean magma pockets.  The material to form these rocks was born in subduction zones, and the magma contained in these plutons can help to “stitch together” geologic terranes.  During the Coast Range episode, many of these rocks built mountains.  Along the margins of these rocks precious or valuable metals can be extruded from host rocks and concentrate.  This can cause excitement for miners and not surprisingly many of the mines in the area are concentrated along intrusive margins.  For example, the Alder Creek mine was a source of zinc and copper.  Be sure to use extreme caution around mines because of unstable rocks, chemicals leeching, rotting timbers, and low oxygen levels within mines that can be difficult to detect until it is too late.  Some other examples of intrusives are Oval Peak tonalite, Fawn Peak diorite, and Monument/Golden Horn granites, all from varying time periods. 
Next week we will cover activity to the West of us, notably the “Cascade Episode.” Stay tuned!
Answers to Questions from Above
1)      A subduction zone at the margin is the usual event that creates an active margin.
2)     The opening of the Atlantic Ocean begins westward movement of the North American continent, creating the active margin on the Pacific west coast.
3)     Subduction creates volcanic arcs. 
4)     The Eocene marks the arrival of the Crescent Basalts, about 50-40 million years ago.
5)     The Pasayten fault separates the Okanogan from the Methow. 

Keith has spent his first summer working on the Beaver Project crew here in the Methow Valley and he's eager to learn all he can about this amazing place.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Geology of the Pacific Northwest with Eric Bard -- Class 1 Notes

By Keith Douville, student in the class

Geology of the Pacific Northwest is the latest course offered by the Methow Conservancy.   Hosted at the new Methow Valley Interpretive Center in Twisp, this class is very popular and 25 eager students excitedly filled the center this Monday to learn about the mysteries of our area that lie hidden beneath our feet.  Our instructor, Eric Bard, began our geologic time travel adventure with a big picture look at some of the forces and their effects on this region. 

Our class, rocking on!
In my first attempt at a blog, I will document parts of this class in the hopes of allowing you to take part in it with us.  I will do my best to discuss concepts presented but encourage you to continue this work with further reading and inquiry as I am somewhat of a novice to the physical sciences.  I will include links for you to explore at the end of this blog.

The Pacific Northwest is a very young place, geologically speaking.   The land around us did not form until Jurassic Time, and since that period a great number of very complex changes have taken place.  This makes understanding of our local geology a complex task.  While this may make some cringe at the daunting task of making sense of it all, it is really a blessing for geologists both professional and amateur to have opportunities to unlock mysteries as theories develop and change with each new breakthrough in scientific understanding.  Part of the challenge (and fun!) for beginners like me is to think of things on a geologic time scale based on millions of years. 

One of the first concepts to understand as we discuss geologic history is the theory of plate tectonics.  Our earth has a crust of solid land which floats upon a plastic-like liquid mantle of molten rock.  The molten rock of the mantle moves as heat is dissipated into the cold of space; much like boiling water in a pan circulates.  This movement of the mantle causes shifts in the earth’s crust, and rifts form in the crust causing tectonic plates to form.  When plates move, they collide with other plates in predictable ways.   Convergence occurs where plates collide, causing buckling or subduction when heavier, denser, older plates under the ocean sink below lighter plates of the continent.  In other situations plates slide and slip laterally against each other, known as a transform boundary.  Plates which are converging at one point are diverging at others, allowing extrusion of the mantle and formation of new crust material.  The movement of plates is slow and constant, at about the same speed that our fingernails grow.  Occasionally plates get stuck and pressure builds, until a breaking point is reached and sudden movement (an earthquake) occurs.  The deepest and strongest earthquakes occur at subduction zones.  Convergent plate plate margins are considered to be active margins as is the Pacific NW due to subduction off the west coast. 

Prior to the formation of the Pacific Northwest, supercontinents made up of the large land masses of the world existed.  We do have some ancestral rocks from this time such as dark gray argillites found in the Colville area and east into Montana, and isolated outcrops of gneiss in the Pacific Northwest - especially along the eastern fringes of Washington.  The supercontinent Rodinia rifted near the modern Spokane area, and that is where the west coast of the ancient continent of Laurentia (North America) met the oceans at a passive margin.  The supercontinent of Pangaea eventually followed, and the Atlantic Ocean began to form as North America pushed to the west.  The early Rocky Mountains formed to the east due to active subduction of what was known as the Farallon Plate during the Mesozoic Era.  This marks the beginning accretion phases of Pacific Northwest geology, a very important concept.   During these accretion events, geologic terranes collide and form, adding to the west coast of North America.  The Kootenay arc was a deformation event with rocks folding and buckling under the pressure.  Because this was a coastline, many of these rocks are made up of marine sediments that had eroded from the landform of Laurentia.  Eventually this now active margin of western “North America” became magmatic and this true volcanic arc further fragmented earlier evidence of prior time periods. 

Now into the Jurassic time period with an active margin on the west coast of North America, it is time to begin adding land – and lots of it – to create much of the Pacific Northwest as we know it today.  The Omenica episode came first with the Aleutian-like Intermontane Belt of stuck together islands crashing into the westward-driving North American continent.  This collision ended the Kootenay arc and created a new subduction zone again on the new west coast with an associated volcanic arc.   In our immediate area, our piece of the puzzle is known as the Quesnella-Oakanogen subcontinent or geologic terrane.  The volcanic arc associated with this collision allowed intrusive granite plutons (pockets of slowly cooling magma underground) east of the Pasayten fault such as the Loomis pluton, Toats coulee, the green rocks of Knob hill above Palmer Lake (these are volcanic metamorphosed basalts), and later Oval peak and the great Goat Wall.  Deformation of rocks associated with the collision occurred as well, and uplifting of lighter limestones is evident in the landscape, with marine fossils in pockets as well.  As volcanic activity increased along the new islands forming the western margin of the continent (which was the trailing margin of the Intermontane Belt), erosion from mountains both east and west caused thick sediments up to 4000 meters thick to fill what became the Methow basin. 

This pattern continues again and again, adding new lands to the west of the Methow, in each case with subduction, volcanic arcs and magmatic intrusions, erosion and sedimentation, uplifting, and faulting causing an immense variety and complexity to the landscape.  The geological landscape changes rapidly in relatively short distances, and this landscape is further changed by glaciations.  Because loose rocks have been moved far and wide from their original positions by ice, it is important to look for bedrock outcroppings as you interpret the geology of an area, and recognize that anything smaller may have travelled from far to your site to confuse you. 

In a very general summary, the lands in the Pacific Northwest west of Spokane area formed very recently from our North American plate crashing into the oceanic plates again and again.  This highly dynamic process has given us a varied and interesting and complex landscape of unique geology, but one that is fascinating to interpret.  Next week we will take a deeper look at the rocks of the Methow area and see what kind of story they can tell us. 

Further Reading:
Evolution of the Pacific Northwest, an excellent free text!
Paleomap Project:
UC-Berkley Geologic Time Scale:

Keith has spent his first summer working on the Beaver Project crew here in the Methow Valley and he's eager to learn all he can about this amazing place.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recycling at its Best

My husband (Cliff) & I went to Sunny M Ranch over the Labor Day weekend to remove & recycle an old wooden cattle feeder that was no longer needed.  Cliff has been using recycled barnwood for some of his woodworking projects, so the offer of more barnwood was appealing.

While we were there, Jennifer Hover introduced us to Jamie, a 14 month old Scottish Highland Bull who weighs 600 lbs.  He will be full grown at 6 years at approx. 2000 lbs. and will eventually be used for breeding their cattle.

Highland cattle are a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and long wavy coats which are colored black, brindled, red, yellow or dun. The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland.  The beef produced by pure-bred Highland cattle is exceptionally tender and of high flavor.

The meat tends to be leaner than most beef because Highlands get most of their insulation from their thick shaggy hair rather than subcutaneous fat. The coat also makes them a good breed for cold northern climates.

While at the ranch, we also meet Petunia who had 12 small snow white, hungry piglets.  Peony is expecting shortly.

Recycling is even better if you can reuse the barnwood & give it new life.  It is fun to see the wood in the rough & then transformed into a piece of furniture.
It was a productive, enjoyable morning outside & being on the ranch reminded me how thankful I am that the Conservancy is preserving farmland in the Methow Valley.

-- Joy Schwab, Bookkeeper

Joy spends her days making sure our books and finances are up-to-date and accurate.  She's amazing!  When she's not running numbers she's biking, skiing, or hiking the hills!