Tag Archives: U.S. Geological Survey

Amusing Monday: Earth becomes art when viewed from satellites

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have created an “Earth-as-Art” collection of brilliant images from space, as seen from Landsat satellites.

Icy Vortex // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Some pictures of Earth formations are reminiscent of actual paintings; some include familiar objects; and some are like abstract creations. Some show the actual colors of earth, sea and sky, while some of the colors are created with filters to highlight natural colors or even to capture light beyond the visible spectrum.

These images remind me of the LIDAR images created by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which I called works of art in a blog post nearly a year ago. See Water Ways, Dec. 11, 2017. I included images of Puget Sound among some satellite photos posted previously. See Water Ways, Sept.11, 2017.

Earth Selfie // Image: USGS, Landsat program

While the images are valuable to USGS scientists who wish to understand and describe features from space, they also stir the imagination. I enjoyed some of the comments written by the scientists, which I will share below along with the titles as shown on the USGS “Earth as Art” website.

Icy Vortex: “Appearing as if an artist imitating Jackson Pollock had randomly spurted ink onto the canvas, this image shows swirling ice in the Foxe Basin of northern Canada. Even though the image is from late July, there was still ice floating in the water this far north.”

Earth’s Aquarium // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Earth Selfie: “The tendency to recognize human faces in things that are not human is common. Can you see the eye, nose, and mouth in this satellite image of Morocco? The face captured in this ‘Earth Selfie’ appears to be quietly watching over the waters just off its coast. The city of Agadir is underneath the chin, and the irrigated farms of the Souss Valley appear in red.”

Earth’s Aquarium: Phytoplankton growing in the Bering Sea create green and blue swirls in the water. The microscopic phytoplankton cannot be seen with the naked eye, but their vast numbers are visible from space. Scientists called this “Earth’s Aquarium” because the white clouds resemble bubbles in a fish tank.

Bleeding Heart // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Bleeding Heart: “A feathery, blood red streak cuts across the heart of this image. The translucent red paint stroke is not actually a feature of the land. It is a cirrus cloud detected by Landsat 8’s cirrus band. This cirrus cloud, which hovers over the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, is invisible in natural color imagery.”

Eerie Cloud Shadows: Clouds show up red in this infrared photo, casting eerie shadows of blue on the landscape of southern Egypt.

Van Gogh from Space: “In the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea.” Currents bring nutrients to the sunlit surface, triggering the growth of the microscopic organisms, which contain chlorophyll.

Eerie Cloud Shadows // Image: USGS, Landsat program
Van Gogh from Space // Image: USGS, Landsat program

NOTE: This blog post was written yesterday, but something went awry during the publishing process, so it was not posted until this morning.

Kitsap groundwater model points to promising future

Overall, the Kitsap Peninsula is expected to have enough water for people and fish for many years into the future, as long as the water is managed well, according to a groundwater model developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The model offers reassuring findings for residents of the Kitsap Peninsula. It is also encouraging to see local water, sewer and public works officials working together to plan for infiltrating stormwater along with recycling wastewater for irrigation. Those efforts will not only protect the peninsula’s water resources but will save money for water customers.

Drilling for water on the Kitsap Peninsula Kitsap Sun file photo
Drilling for water on the Kitsap Peninsula
Kitsap Sun file photo

Lonna Frans of the U.S. Geological Survey met this week with members of WaterPAK — the Water Purveyors of Association of Kitsap — to discuss the conclusions of a five-year, $1.4 million study of water resources across the Kitsap Peninsula. Lonna said a final written report should be available in about a month. (See website Kitsap GW model.)

The most impressive part of the groundwater model is the mapping of geology across the entire peninsula, based on more than 2,100 well-driller logs that describe the type of soil at various depths. Putting that information together provides a three-dimensional picture of the underground structure, including sand and gravel deposits, which contain water, along with layers of clay and compressed soils, which slow down the water movement.

By monitoring water levels in 66 wells over time and accounting for rainfall and groundwater withdrawals, the computer model provides a dynamic picture of what happens under various conditions. The model can be used to predict what will happen to Kitsap’s aquifers under various rainfall scenarios, including long periods of drought.

Map

Key

The model also can predict what will happen to streamflows under various rainfall scenarios. The Kitsap Peninsula has no mountain snowpack to supply the streams with water during dry summer months, so the water must come from slow-moving underground supplies.

Now that the model is complete, it can be run for almost any pattern of rainfall or drought that one wishes to dream up. For example, running the model with average rainfall and no pumping at all (close to a predevelopment condition) would bring the average groundwater level up about 25 feet — although groundwater levels in some places would be raised more than in other places.

Streamsflows under the no-pumping scenario would be an average of about 2 percent higher — although this would be difficult to measure with current instruments. Nobody would really notice the difference.

If pumping across the peninsula were increased by 15 percent, there would not be much difference in aquifers near the surface and only a two- or three-foot drop in aquifers around sea level. Streamflows would go down by a fraction of a percent but not enough to notice.

Decreasing groundwater recharge by 15 percent, such as paving over the landscape with new roads, houses and parking lots, would have a greater effect on streamflows.

Again, not all areas on the peninsula will see the same effects. The model can be used to zero in on specific streams and their watersheds — although the smaller the area of study, the less accurate the prediction is likely to be.

Bob Hunter, manager of Kitsap Public Utility District, said the model can be used to predict the effects that new wells would have on streamflows as the population grows. The model could advise managers whether it would be advisable to pump certain wells at certain times of the year and hold back at other times.

Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city of Bremerton, said the model can also be used to make sure aquifer-recharge areas are protected and that industrial facilities that store large quantities of chemicals are not located where a spill could contaminate a major underground water supply.

Morgan Johnson, general manager of Silverdale Water District, said he would like to use the model to predict what will happen when highly treated effluent from the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant is used to irrigate ball fields and other areas in Central Kitsap. Efforts between the water districts and Kitsap County might lead to greater infiltration of water and greater groundwater supplies to be pumped from existing wells throughout Central Kitsap.

The model was built on background information, which can be found in the report “Hydrogeologic Framework, Groundwater Movement, and Water Budget of the Kitsap Peninsula” (PDF 49.8 mb).

The USGS provided half the costs for the study. The other half was shared among Kitsap PUD; Silverdale Water District; West Sound Utility District; North Perry Water District; Manchester Water District; the cities of Bremerton, Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Gig Harbor; Washington Water, a private utility; and the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

In September of 2014, I wrote about water resources for the series we called “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The story was called “Making sure there is enough water to go around.”

Researchers focus on forage fish and shorelines

UPDATE: June 26

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has taken a major step in the protection of unregulated forage fish with a resolution calling for increased studies and possible fishing restrictions. The resolution begins:

“It is the Council’s intent to recognize the importance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem off our coast, and to provide adequate protection for forage fish. We declare that our objective is to prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by our Council, or the States, until we have an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to the fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

Read the entire resolution on the PFMC’s website.
—–

In the end, the plankton and the tiny fish that eat them may reveal the real story about Puget Sound.

USGS researchers Dave Ayers, Ryan Tomka and Collin Smith haul in their net at Fay Bainbridge Park last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

As I wrote in a story for Monday’s Kitsap Sun:

“While killer whales and salmon dominate the public spotlight, researchers are focusing increasing attention near the bottom of the food web and on the physical processes that support all life in Puget Sound.”

The story focuses on studies related to forage fish and hydrogeological processes along the shorelines of the Kitsap Peninsula, but it ties into everything we know about Puget Sound.

One project, led by U.S. Geological Survey researcher Theresa “Marty” Liedtke, is studying the extent to which sand lance and surf smelt depend on eelgrass beds. The project is part of the agency’s investigation called “Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS). Check out the CHIPS website for further information.

The other study, by geologist Wendy Gerstel of Qwg Applied Geology, is part of a larger grant project dealing with shoreline processes funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendy has been studying sources of sediment that feed the beaches in Kitsap County. She is preparing to use what she has found to make recommendations about potential shoreline-restoration projects.

Her project and related issues will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop called “Kitsap’s Shorelines and Restoration Opportunities: A Landowner Workshop.”

Participants will learn about beach processes and shoreline ecology and hear from researchers studying shoreline erosion and sediment sources along Kitsap County shorelines. The workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, and everyone is invited.

Another development involving sand lance, surf smelt and other “unmanaged” forage fish is a proposal for the Pacific Fishery Management Council to initiate a process that could eventually lead to fisheries regulations.

Protecting all forage fish seems to be a goal of many environmental organizations, as one can see in the public comments section of PFMC’s agenda (Item G.1) for Saturday’s meeting in San Mateo, Calif.

Steve Marx of the Pew Environment Group wrote a 12-page letter in support of managing for protection:

“To date the Council has received over 19,000 individual pieces of correspondence from engaged members of the public, urging it to take action to protect forage species for the sake of a healthy ecosystem, sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.

“Over 110 licensed commercial fishermen and women on the West Coast have written to the Council, urging it to prevent new fisheries from developing on forage species until adequate science is available. Additionally, a diverse list of both commercial and recreational fishing organizations have advocated for the
Council to implement needed forage protections, including a reversal on the burden of proof for new forage fisheries.

“The regional fishery management council process encourages public participation, and we hope that this strong show of public support for protecting unmanaged
forage species is helpful as the Council continues its deliberation on how best to proceed.”

Research divers to watch arrival of Elwha sediments

In a report last night on KING-5 News, Gary Chittim offered a visually rich account of the studies taking place at the mouth of the Elwha River, where nearshore and delta areas are expected to receive huge loads of sediment after the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams come out.

He noted that divers from The U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting strong currents as they conduct a spacial survey of the plants and animals in the nearshore area.

Gary quoted Sean Sheldrake, dive unit officer for the EPA:

“Just yesterday, we were diving on a beautiful kelp forest with a variety of fish and plant life, and the hope is through this reconnection of the Elwha to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it will not only continue but thrive.”

And in a news release last week from the U.S. Geological Survey, Sheldrake was quoted as saying:

“Until now, we’ve focused most of our attention on the effect this project will have on the river, salmon habitat and salmon recovery. But with this survey, we will have a more complete and much clearer picture of the effects on the nearshore ocean environment.”

More than 19 million cubic meters of sediment — enough to fill 11 football fields the height of the Empire State Building — has accumulated behind the Elwha River dams, according to the news release. That sediment is expected to create turbidity for a time, but in the long run could be beneficial for a variety of plant and animal species in area.

Documents for further reading:

Proceedings of the 2011 Elwha Nearshore Consortium Meeting (PDF 1.3 mb)

Nearshore function of the central Strait of Juan de Fuca for juvenile fish… Executive Summary (PDF 906 kb)

Elwha Nearshore Update, Summer 2011 (PDF 333 kb)

Nearshore substrate and morphology offshore of the Elwha River (PDF 4.5 mb)

Nearshore restoration of the Elwha River through removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams (PDF 308 kb)

Washington water rights: Will the logjam be broken?

When it comes to water rights in Washington state, it seems to me that the Legislature is trying to sell survival suits on a sinking ship.

Because of budget problems, the Legislature last year slashed 25 percent of the Department of Ecology’s staff in the program that studies water resources and issues water rights. As you can see from Ecology’s map at right (click to enlarge), more than 7,000 water rights are pending, and the backlog is growing.

The latest move is to expedite applications where groups of people are willing to pay for studies to determine if water is available. Reporter Chris Henry wrote about the approved Senate Bill 6267 in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The new law allows a group of water-rights applicants to get together and pay for the studies needed to process water rights for a given area. Anyone not willing to contribute to the study must wait in line for Ecology to get around to processing their water rights. So the new law works well for water utilities, which have enough money to pay for the studies. It may or may not work well for farmers and others who have limited dollars, depending on their share of the costs.
Continue reading

Kitsap study could quantify water supplies

Last week, I wrote about a meeting between water officials on the Kitsap Peninsula and hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS folks were floating the idea of studying the geology and available water supplies across the entire Kitsap Peninsula. (See story in Thursday’s Kitsap Sun.)

Surface waters of Kitsap.

I’ve covered water resources for years, and one of the big questions in the context of growth and development has always been: “Will the area have enough water to support growth.”

It’s a question I’ve asked local water managers since I arrived here in 1977. Their answer is generally something like this: “We should have enough water far into the future if we manage it carefully.” My latest story, published in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 3, described a relatively low-water year ending in October.

Most of Kitsap County’s water comes from wells. Consequently, managing water carefully means conserving what we’ve got, allowing our rains to soak into the ground and, in some contexts, being able to move water from areas of lesser supply to areas of greater supply. The map of surface waters at right can be found on the Kitsap County Web site.

Water is one of the big environmental issues of our time, and it will grow more important as long as the population continues to grow. Most people in the water business would like to know more about underground water supplies, so a study of the peninsula’s water resources would be valuable. Experts also realize that studies of this kind are only as good as the data that go in. That involves using measurements from hundreds of wells and well logs (soil layers) across the peninsula. You may want to check out similar studies conducted by USGS.

This topic also appears to be interesting to Kitsap Sun readers, because the story I wrote last week was rated the most popular on the Web site for two days running.

As with many environmental stories, the first comments to be posted seemed skeptical of the whole idea that caused me to write the story:

Crownvic (the first comment): “This is another one of these greeny try-to-scare-the-hell-out-of-you articles. First of all, almost all water wells pump from an aquifer 100 feet plus deep and have absolutely no effect on surface waters due to the impervious layers top and bottom…”
Continue reading