Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Healthy Soils for Healthy Vegetables


Written December 12, 2012, published in late December, 2012, all photographs by Kathleen Sayce

Soil health for vegetable gardens is more precise than for ornamental gardens and native plants. Most vegetables are annuals or biennials, living only one year, or over one winter.  All of are from other places and climates, with nutrient and soil needs considerably different than local soils can provide. Vegetable plants need:  Deep, open, well-aerated soils with soil carbon, diverse minerals, sunlight, warmth and regular water. With these, they grow quickly into tender, nutritious and edible foods; without them, vegetable plants struggle, easily fall ill, and fail to thrive. Vegetables generally are not shade plants, especially along the raincoast; warmth and regular watering are needed for vegetables to grow well. 

Well-grown vegetables are able to resist weather, diseases, insect pests, and have high levels of minerals, proteins and other plant compounds. This photo of Red Russian Kale was taken in Jim Karnofski’s vegetable garden by Kathleen Sayce.

Soil Carbon

As with other kinds of plants, vegetable plants need soil carbon. The forms that are the most usable for vegetable plants are not aged wood chips or forest debris, but well prepared compost with humus, and biochar (biologically activated charcoal). Vegetable plants use soil carbon throughout their root growing areas, so gardening practices for optimal plant nutrition incorporate carbon of several kinds throughout the soil profile. Gardeners work carbon into the soil with a rototiller or shovel, add layers to the surface, side dress plants, and amend planting holes. They also fallow garden sections every few years, planting cover crops to put more carbon back into the soil. 

Carbon promotes soil health by giving soil organisms food to eat (carbon) and places to live (cellulose scaffolding). The one drawback is that, being formed of cellulose (wood), most forms of compost break down quickly. So gardeners need to add compost regularly, year after year. Only humus, a brown, clean-smelling, somewhat sticky substance, persists for decades to centuries in soil. Compost piles can form humus if clay and local soil are added to each layer. 

Compost with charcoal added is dark colored, and is now ready to go into the vegetable garden.  Photo of one of Jim Karnofski’s compost bins.  

A second soil carbon material, biochar, is charcoal that has been activated with compost or soil microbes. Biochar has an advantage as a soil amendment: charcoal is stable in soils for centuries to millennia. When gardeners add biochar, this is a permanent improvement in the soil. Add biochar along with compost, and over time, you will have the same productivity with less compost. 

Making Biochar

When wood is burned, charcoal is formed during the burning process. If burning is complete, the wood goes to charcoal and then to ash. Starving the fire of oxygen (a process called pyrolysis) promotes charcoal formation and keeps the fire from consuming all the wood. Innovative pyrolysis burners are being developed at backyard and industrial scales to produce large amounts of charcoal with minimal amounts of ash. When the charcoal is wet and cold, it can be added to compost to be inoculated. See  HYPERLINK "http://www.biochar-international.org/" http://www.biochar-international.org/ for biochar producing devices. A short video for an introduction to home charcoal making is on You Tube at  HYPERLINK "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqkWYM7rYpU" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqkWYM7rYpU .

Freshly made charcoal is ready to go into the compost pile when it is wet and cold, and broken into small pieces. 








Mineral Nutrition

The second soil management practice for optimally healthy soils is to use soil tests to determine what minerals are needed, and then to add those missing minerals in the correct amounts. Soil tests are inexpensive, and a simple way to ensure a garden is not over-fertilized with some minerals and too low in others. It’s a good gardening practice to test soils in your vegetable garden and adjust your fertilizer program every year. Minerals can be added as rock dusts, algae extracts, and other forms.  The differences in terms of productivity can be staggering; I’m not talking ten percent increases or even twenty. At times, improvements can be on the order of multiples, as measured by plant weights or volumes, fifty pounds of potatoes instead of twenty, for example.  

Jim Karnofski, local vegetable gardener and retired nurse, has delved into soil mineral nutrition as a neighborhood soil analyst, and is wiling to teach anyone interested in learning the details how to decipher soil test results. He also makes custom nutrient blends for specific soils. I tested my soils a few weeks ago, after years of adding carbon, trace minerals, and organic fertilizer blends. I found that my soils are surprisingly low in boron, manganese, sodium, copper and sulfur. Jim composed a custom blend to meet the nutritional deficiencies based on the soil test. I’ll add a portion of these missing nutrients every few months, test again in coming years, and keep adjusting minerals to improve my soil. A new book by Steve Solomon, The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-dense Food, goes into splendid detail about vegetable nutrition. 

The sum of all of these actions (adding carbon, testing soils and adding mineral nutrients) is to have optimally healthy soils. Healthy soils produce healthy plants, able to resist disease, drought and insect predation. In turn, healthy plants produce nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, which are better foods for us.  Many chronic human health conditions go away when people make the change to eating fruits and vegetables grown on optimally healthy soils. I think we’d all like to live healthier lives, and my personal task for the New Year is to promote soil health, so as to promote human health. 












Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Healthy soils for Garden Plants

Written November 30, 2012, published December 2012

Hand in hand with good plant choices, and planting at the right time (fall) to fit the local climate, is promoting soil health.  There are two paths to take; one is for native perennials, shrubs and trees, and the other is for vegetables. I’ll discuss vegetable soils later. Today, my focus is on ornamental gardens, especially native plants––perennials, shrubs and trees–-and the soil these plants need to grow well. 

On a hillside under pines, Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and Soft-footed Sedge, Carex leptopoda, grow in thick layers of wood chip mulch. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Our climate is a curious one, with wet winters and dry summers. Wet winters mean that it’s difficult for soils to hold onto nutrients, many of which are water-soluble. Long months of cold rains mean that nutrients wave at plant roots as they wash past and out of reach. Worse, those long wet months bring the ground water table up to the surface in low areas. Roots of most upland plants do not grow in water due to low oxygen levels. The result is these root systems are relatively shallow, and nutrients wash past even more quickly. Also, during severe windstorms, plants with shallow roots are more likely to blow out of the ground. Due to a long wet season, local soils are also acidic; native species tolerate and even prefer this acidity. 

Streambank orchid, Epipactis gigantea, is growing in a low wet swale, amended with compost and aged wood chips. Photo by Kathleen Sayce


In nature, soils store carbon in several forms:  living and dead wood, including logs, branches and twigs, or thatch, and living and dead roots. Many species of fungi and bacteria live on these materials. Wood, roots, branches and twigs are composed of cellulose, the most common biopolymer on the planet, which is made by living plants from sugars formed during photosynthesis to shape cell walls. Those sugars and celluloses are the plants’ building blocks and trade goods. They trade sugars with bacteria and fungi for water and nutrients. 

In thick layers of woody mulch, Stropharia fungi produce mushrooms, the fruits of soil mycelia. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Different species of fungi live on heartwood, greenwood, cambium, bark, roots, and dead wood. Specific fungi live on living roots, dead roots, and on duff materials––twigs, needles and branches that fall to the forest floor.  Specific fungi associate with specific shrubs and trees, connecting via their mycorrhizae (fungal filaments in the soil, which are often whitish and look like thin fragile roots) with plant roots, to share water and nutrients. 

Mushrooms are abundant in garden soils with ample carbon, such as aged wood chips.  Photo by Kathleen Sayce
The fungi get simple sugars from the plants, and the plants get minerals in return. There may be bacteria in association with both that fix nitrogen, and also share with fungi and plants for sugars.  Animals that live in the soil eat roots, fungi and bacteria, and are eaten by other animals. Their bodies are food for other bacteria and fungi. Soil ecosystems are largely hidden from us by virtue of size and location, as most soil organisms are microscopic and all are out of sight underground. 

To promote healthy soils for native plants, then, it is not sufficient to provide water and fertilizer. In fact, nitrogen fertilizer by itself, without the supporting structure of soil carbon and soil organisms, throws soil out of balance, causing soil carbon to be eaten and further depleted in the soil, year after year. 

Balance is restored to the soil by adding several forms of carbon:  compost, biochar (biologically activated charcoal), tree litter and wood chip mulch. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is not a soil designed for vegetable gardens, but for native trees, shrubs and perennials, species that have lived here for thousands to millions of years. 

Blue-flowered tall camas, Camassia lechitlinii, is growing in a plant bed that was widened; the thick wood chip and compost layer is now ready to plant. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
There are efficient ways to feed these forms carbon to the soil. One is to mix in compost and biochar around the root zone in the planting hole when you put in plants. The second is to layer all of these materials on the surface, year after year. Carbon promotes the growth of soil organisms, which in turn collectively improve soil health, help it retain nutrients and water. 

Wood chips can go on the surface of the soil in a mulch layer. These aren’t fresh from the chipper, but aged chips, piled and kept damp until well-colonized by soil fungi. The piles are aged for a year or more, until fungal mycorrhizae (visible as small white threads) have thoroughly spread throughout the pile. Once a soil is on its way to improved health, in alternate years spread compost or wood chips. 

How do you know there’s enough carbon on top of and in the soil? You will see fruiting fungi (mushrooms) during the wet season. When mushrooms appear, they tell you that the soil has enough carbon to be reasonably healthy. The gain is in the garden: plants need less summer water, grow well without added fertilizers, flower abundantly, set seed, and resist drought and disease. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plant in the Fall for good growth the next year

Written November 4, 2012, published mid November 2012

As an ecologist who likes to garden, I’ve worked and reworked the design and plants in my garden for years, starting with a traditional older coastal garden with lawns, rhododendrons, camellias and roses. I tried perennials and cottage-style beds, then a more Mediterranean-style garden with sages, lavenders, rosemary, bulbs, rockroses, and no summer irrigation.  This led me to focus on soil health, lower impact gardening, and to growing more native plants. I always had a few in my garden, especially evergreen huckleberry and sword fern. Now I have many more, and the result is a hardy, tough garden, full of flowers, bees, butterflies and birds, that needs little to no summer water. 

Common Camas, Camassia leichtlinii, grows 30-40 inches tall, with light blue to dark blue flowers, and is very attractive to native bumblebees and early butterflies. Camas grows in spring wet /summer dry soils, in full sun. Photo by Kathleen Sayce. 

Our wet winters and dry summers aren’t common around the world. Places with some rain all year round, or with dry winters and summer rainfall, cover most of the planet’s landmass. Our local area is considered a cool Mediterranean-type gardening zone. In Mediterranean-type climates, the driest time of year coincides with the most sun and heat. Our summer and early fall weather tends to be quite dry. Small patches of this climate occur all over the world at moderate latitudes, yet the total area does not cover more than ten percent of the planet.  


Pacific wax myrtle, Myrica californica, is an evergreen shrub to small tree. It grows in full sun to part shade, and can tolerate both damp and dry sites. Birds like its waxy berries. It makes good hedges for screening, to 10-15 feet tall, and mixes well with shore pine and salal in hedgerows. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

How our native plants cope

Native plants in the maritime Pacific Northwest compensate for dry summers by timing bud-break, leaf-out, flowering and seed production to seasonal water. These plants also engage with soil fungi with roots; this improves access to nutrients and water. Native plants often have two distinct growing periods, spring and fall, and may go partially dormant in late summer when water stress is the greatest. Many flower in spring, set seed by early to mid summer, and wait out the dry season partially dormant; then they put out new roots in fall. They are ready to grow if rain falls during the dry season, but survive if the weather stays dry.  

Kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is a low growing evergreen groundcover with pink flowers and red berries. It grows in full sun to part shade, in damp to dry sites, and mixes well with heathers and salal. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

Plant in the fall

The best time to plant is in autumn––after the start of rain, usually October or November. As soils cool down and rain starts, plants’ roots begin to grow. They grow new roots when soils are moist and temperatures are at or above 40 F. In mild winters, this can be almost all winter long.  The bigger the root system by next spring, the more that plant will be able to grow that summer. Fall planting decreases the amount of water needed the next summer because these root systems are bigger than if planted in spring, just before the dry season starts. Reduced watering the next summer by planting the prior fall sounds pretty good. Less watering during the dry season is also very efficient. 

Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is an evergreen shrub that can be kept low or allowed to grow more than six feet tall. It has early pink flowers and edible dark blue berries, and grows in damp to dry soils, full sun to part shade, and mixes well with other shrubs and groundcovers for hedges and woodland plantings. Photo by Kathleen Sayce.

Food for native animals

There is an important ecological reason to use native plants: to support native animals. Insects, birds, small mammals, and the animals that feed on them, are ultimately dependent on native foods. Yes, there are introduced plants that can be eaten by generalist native animals, particularly deer. By and large, most native animals key in on a few native species. If you want butterflies, bees and other pollinators, birds, amphibians and mammals to hang around your yard, put in native plants. Large areas planted to introduced species are ecological deserts for native animals. There’s nothing for them to eat. 

There’s an excellent book on this subject by Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, which contains a wealth of details about the complexity of native plant communities, the animals they are food for, and the choices we have to encourage, or discourage, native ecology in our own yards. He writes about Delaware, but the principles are the same here in the Pacific Northwest. 

If you dislike hauling hoses around, and prefer a garden that can take care of itself in droughts, torrential rains, and snow, then select native plants over introduced plants. There are hundreds of species, including trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. The result is a garden that is more attractive to native animals, including butterflies, bees and birds, which needs little to no summer water, and survives our wet cold winters in good condition.  Don’t forget the time of year to put in those native plants––in fall. 


Indian rhubarb, Darmera peltata, flowers in the spring, then the leaves come out afterwards. It prefers soils that are wet to damp year round, in part sun to shade. Photo by Kathleen Sayce







Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pacific Coast Iris: low maintenance wildflowers

Written October 12, 2012, published November 2012

A showy group of irises are native to the West Coast from southern California to southwestern Washington. Called the Pacific Coast Iris (PCI), these species grow very well in our area. There are thirteen to fourteen species and hundreds of hybrids. PCI grow in well-drained soils with some compost and mulch, and prefer part sun to full sun along the coast. Otherwise they need little summer care. They flower from March to June, with peak bloom in May-June. In my garden, they peak just as the lilies start, so I have a continual blooming sequence from March to September, first of iris, then of lilies. The genus Iris is large, with more than one thousand species and many sections. The most well known Iris section is tall bearded (TBI), which are big plants with large rhizomes, very tough, and which grow well in humid wet conditions. The term “bearded” refers to tufts of hairs on the “falls,” the three large petals that hang down in each flower. The upright petals are called standards. There are more than a dozen sections of Iris in the non-bearded group, and PCI are one of those sections. 


PCI Rodeo Gulch, a registered orange with purple signal, from BayView Nursery, Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

The big yellow TBI that grows along the Columbia River is Iris pseudacorus, yellow flag, from Europe. Yellow flag is listed as a noxious weed in several states, and thrives in wetlands. 

PCI flowers are slightly smaller than TBI flowers; PCI plants are shorter with long, narrow evergreen leaves instead of wide leaves. One species is deciduous, Iris tenax, which lives in southwestern Washington and western Oregon. Plants range in height from less than ten inches to around thirty inches tall. 


PCI Cape Sebastian, an unregistered selection with white flowers and a very showy purple and gold signal. Photo by Kathleen Sayce 
PCI flower color range is wide, from white thru pink, rose, red, orange, yellow, lavenders, blues and purples, browns, to nearly black, which is seen in some very dark red and dark purple flowers. There are hybrids with showy signals (spots on the falls or lower petals), veining, halos, and ruffling. There are wide petal forms and narrow petal forms, bicolor and bi-tone forms. 


PCI Mission Santa Cruz, a lovely rich red-purple flower on a sturdy plant.  Photo by Kathleen Sayce 




















Unlike bearded iris, PCI are not wetland plants and do not need much summer water. PCI tolerate wet winters and dry summers; in other words, our normal rainfall patterns are fine for them. They like mildly acidic soils, which is our normal soil condition. A little compost and mulch helps them in sand or clay soils, a little fertilizer promotes flowering. PCI also do well in meadows, where they thrive with an annual fall mowing, which is essential in our climate to keep woody shrubs and trees from growing into grasslands. Native bees, ants and hummingbirds visit PCI flowers, which provide both nectar and pollen. A few are mildly fragrant. 

I have not had deer, aphid, caterpillar, or disease problems in my garden, except when I first planted them. Deer tugged up, chewed on, and spit out all the PCI seedlings the night after they were planted. I found the seedlings the next day lying on the ground, somewhat battered from chewing. I put them back in the ground, and half of them lived. Since then, the deer leave them alone, except for an experimental mouthful every year or so by a fawn that is learning food plants for the first time.  


PCI Blue Plate Special, a registered blue from BayView Nursery, Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
I started growing PCI more than a decade ago, when I was first practicing dry gardening, and soon learned why PCI aren’t more widely grown: They can be successfully transplanted only for a few weeks in spring, and for a couple of months in fall. I move PCI in the fall, from late September to November, after waiting for wet weather to start, and typically water them only once, the day they are planted. Now I have six species and several dozen hybrids in my garden. Among irisarians, this is barely getting started; I know urban gardeners who grow more than 1,000 iris varieties on a city lot.  Every three or four years they should be divided; if I can’t get to my plants then, I give them more compost to tide them over. 


PCI Finger Painting, a registered blue and white form, from BayView Nursery, Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Unlike bearded iris, PCI do not like to sit in hot containers in summer, with hot roots, or to lie on the ground for weeks waiting to be planted. They do not like soggy wet feet in summer, either, or hot humid weather; the latter keeps them from being grown in much of central to southeastern US. 


PCI Joy Creek Orchid, an unregistered selection from Joy Creek Nursery, Scappose, OR, with an orchid flower, and a multicolored signal on the falls. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Out here on the Pacific Northwest Coast, PCI thrive in all but wetland soils, and in part sun to full sun, even in bright shade. My garden has silty sand with some compost mixed into the soil and mulch on top, and here they grow very well.  One species grows only along the immediate coast from southern Oregon to southern California, Douglas iris, Iris douglasiana. It thrives in salty, windy coastal soils, on sand and on seacliffs. Locally, Douglas iris grows in the Discovery Garden at Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington. These plants are typical: tall, with pale lavender to white flowers with a yellow signal, and usually flower in May-June. 


PCI Cape Ferrelo, a light blue form of Iris douglasiana, photo by Kathleen Sayce
With a huge range of PCI sizes, colors, and forms to chose from, there is a PCI for you, just waiting for a chance to grow in your yard. For more information, take a look at  HYPERLINK "http://www.pacificcoastiris.org" www.pacificcoastiris.org, the website for the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris.  The society maintains the registry of hybrid PCI. Pages on each registered hybrid are posted in the American Iris Society’s Iris Encyclopedia, at  HYPERLINK "http://wiki.irises.org/bin/view" 
http://wiki.irises.org/bin/view in the PCN section. 

You can also find information about all the other sections of iris on the AIS website.  


Iris douglasiana, Douglas iris, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, WA, a very pale lavender to white flower with a yellow signal on the falls. Photo by Kathleen Sayce.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Late Summer Red Tide: Myrionecta


Written September 17, 2012, published late September 2012

In late summer to early fall each year, water in the lower Columbia River, from Tongue Point to the entrance, turns purple to blood red. This so-called red tide is not toxic, and has been happening here for many decades. It’s caused by the rapid growth of a tiny ciliated protozoan (a single-celled animal with rows of tiny movable hairs, called cilia), Myrionecta rubra, which lives in brackish to salt water. It was formerly called Mesodinium rubrum

Aerial photo of Chinook Basin on Baker's Bay, during late summer when Myrionecta is blooming. Myrionecta patches are very dark; while waters with low levels of this protozoan are green. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

Myrionecta rubra looks like two balls stuck together, one slightly smaller than the other. It has two rows of cilia where the balls join, which move in rhythm like flexible, very fast beating galley oars. The whole animal is so small that in a water sample without magnification, all you can see is a red blur in the water. Under a light microscope, Myrionecta cells live only a few minutes before they overheat and die, rupturing the cell wall and spewing the intercellular contents out into the water. When healthy, they zip around as though jet propelled, bouncing off the edges of the slide, and rocketing from one side to another, fast, agile, tumbling, and changing directions with ease. 

Myrionecta cells look red because inside each cell, which is 50 µm long and 20 µm wide, are even tinier red algae, each one a few microns in diameter. Green plants have green plastids called chloroplasts, which were once free-living green photosynthetic bacteria. Myrionecta’s red plastids are red algae that have learned how to live inside cells; they can also live on their own as well. This relationship is often called a symbiosis, because the algae give the cells in which they live sugars for food, being photosynthetic, and gain a protective cell wall to live within. 

Myrionecta is around most of the year in brackish to salty water. In the years when I collected water samples to look at plankton species, I saw them in samples from the Columbia River, the Columbia plume offshore, in the ocean surf, in Willapa Bay, and also on rivers, including the Palix and Willapa Rivers. During August to October, they become very abundant. A few cells in the water don’t change the color, but billions of cells turn the water blood red. 

Sailboat ont the Columbia River near Desdemona Sands off Astoria, sailing through a dense red patch of Myrionecta. Aerial photo by Kathleen Sayce.

This color change is easily seen from the Astoria-Megler Bridge on Highway 101. The darkest colors can be seen as streaks and swirls, especially from the spans over the north and south channels, or from an airplane. The red color appears in August, first as a purplish tinge to otherwise blue waters, strengthens in September, and persists until fall storms begin, usually sometime in October. During this period, the number of Myrionecta cells in the water is easily in the millions of cells per cubic meter of water. The next time you are sitting in your car on the high span at the south end of the bridge in late summer or early fall in warm dry weather, watch the water and see if Myrionecta rubra is ‘blooming.’ 

Unlike many harmful algal blooms, this dramatic red bloom happens every summer and early fall with no bad side effects.  Myrionecta rubra doesn’t make biotoxins, does not make seafood poisonous, or cause illness or death in fish, birds or humans. It’s been going on for many decades. Not all blooms in local waters are so benign, but this particular one doesn’t seem to be a problem. 



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fossil mammoth teeth tell us about past climates and plant communities


Written August 7, 2012, published September 2012

There is a fossil Columbian mammoth tooth in the museum at the Pacific County Historical Society, South Bend, WA. The tooth was found in the 1930s, in floodplain sediments along the North River. Mammoth fossils from the Pleistocene Epoch are common throughout North America, and in Washington. During the Pleistocene, mammoths lived from Alaska and Canada to Nicaragua and Honduras. Two mammoth species wandered over from Asia into Alaska and Canada, and two species were indigenous to and widespread in North America, including the Columbian mammoth. 


Figure 3. Mounted composite skeleton of a Columbian-type mammoth made from skeletal elements recovered in the 1870s from the
‘swamps’ at the Copelin Ranch along Latah Creek in Spokane County (site 06). When assembled in 1886 in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, this ‘mammoth’ was considered to be the first fully mounted specimen, albeit a composite from several individuals, of a mammoth in North America. (Photo from Higley, 1886.)
From:
Washington Geology, vol. 27, no. 2/3/4, December 1999, page 25 “Some Notable Finds of Columbian Mammoths
from Washington State” Bax R. Barton


The Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus columbi, is the state fossil. Bax Barton wrote in Washington Geology (Vol. 27 (2/3/4), 1999, page 23) “Of the 39 counties in Washington, only heavily forested counties on the west side of the Cascade mountains (for example, Skamania and Wahkiakum) and less populated counties on the east side (for example, Ferry and Pend Oreille) have thus far failed to produce mammoth fossils.” The Columbian mammoth was up to 13 feet tall and just under 10 tons, eating around 500 pounds of vegetation per day. This mammoth had long tusks, and was not very hairy, unlike other mammoth species, and also unlike mastodons. 

Mammoth tooth on display at Pacific County Historical Society, South Bend, WA. It was collected from the floodplain of the North River in north Pacific County. Photo by Kathleen Sayce.
This single fossil tooth from the North River tells us what plant communities and climate were like during glacial maxima (when continental ice was most widespread) in the Pleistocene. Mammoths did not live in forests. They grazed on open grasslands, eating grasses and sedges, with sages, mosses, ferns and aquatic plants as minor foods. Grasses and sedges were extensive during glacial maxima because that climate was cooler and drier than today’s. These shifts promote a long-term seesaw between forests and grasslands. Forests shrink during glacial maxima, and expand during warm wet periods. Periods of cold dry weather promote grasslands and sedges. Warm wet periods promote forests, such as today’s climate. Today, the present climate promotes trees. 

Sea level also seesaws between ice ages and temperate periods. During glacial maxima, sea level was as much as 350 feet lower than today. The continental shelf was a wide rolling plain, dissected by rivers flowing from modern day estuaries in deep valleys, including Columbia, Willapa and Grays Harbor. These river valleys can still be seen on bathymetric charts as deep canyons, along with larger side channels; finer stream details are buried under marine sediments. 

Mammoths weren’t the only animals to flourish during the Pleistocene; freshwater river habitats for fish in those streams on the plains were extensive compared to present day. 

Mammoth teeth are common fossils for two reasons. One, teeth are hard, and generally persist with relative ease compared to other body parts. Two, over their lifetimes, each mammoth had six or more full sets of teeth. As grazers, they wore teeth down quickly, and replaced them in sets. Shark teeth are common marine fossils for the same reasons: teeth are hard, and sharks constantly grow new teeth to replace worn and damaged ones.  

As the climate warmed, forests expanded, grasslands shrank, and mammoths found their preferred food plants disappearing. Their teeth were designed for grasses and sedges, not conifer trees. The last mammoths died out around 10-11,000 years ago, based on dating the youngest known fossils from the Midwest. There are gold deposits buried on the continental shelf, and mammoth fossils are out there as well, along with a lot of shark teeth. 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oceanic Gyres and Garbage Patches


Written June 27, 2012, published August 2012

The 2011 tsunami inadvertently provided ocean biologists with study material for pelagic drift for years to come. The word pelagic is from the Greek word for open sea, pélagos. Probably the best-known pelagic ecosystem in the world is the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic Ocean. This is a natural gyre, or eddy, where floating seaweed is common. It is a large oval around 700 statute miles wide and 2,000 statute miles long, and is near Bermuda on the west edge. The Sargasso Sea is bordered on all sides by currents. 

This sea is named for floating brown seaweed, in the genus Sargassum, which is common throughout the eddy area. While most Sargassum species are benthic and live associated with seabeds, Sargassums in the Sargasso Sea are holopelagic (free-floating throughout their lives). 

A local seaweed in this genus, Sargassum muticum, lives on shells, cobbles and wood on tidelands of Willapa Bay. Like other Sargassums, it has dense leafy brown fronds with numerous small air bladders, which help it to float up off the bottom and probably gives it more access to light. It is one of dozens of species that arrived with Pacific oyster spat in the early to mid 20th Century from Japan, and now lives in many estuaries around the world. 

A recent expedition to the Sargassum Sea confirmed that numerous endemic species, which live nowhere else on earth, are found among this floating seaweed forest.  This floating reef structure is used by many species; likewise, the cover provided by Sargassum is attractive to many fish species in the otherwise open ocean.

Being a gyre, the Sargasso Sea is a watery trap for debris. This golden brown seaweed community is slowly being filled with plastics from the surrounding currents and shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The Sargasso Sea is becoming the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch. 

In the Pacific, there is no Sargasso Sea West, but there is a marine debris and plastics gyre in a similar location, in the North Pacific Gyre. It is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The densest part of this gyre is between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N, a long oval area that is 480 by 1400 statute miles wide. The exact size is difficult to measure, because the plastics in it gather in a floating belt in the water, not a raft lifted up out of the water. It is north of the Hawaiian archipelago, and stretches east and west for hundreds of miles. There are also several other gyres in the world’s oceans, in the south Pacific, Indian and south Atlantic Oceans. All of these are places where plastics accumulate. 

Locally, we know there is a plastics debris problem on our beaches, but compared to some Hawaiian beaches, our beaches approach pristine condition. Some beaches on the north side of the Hawaiian Islands accumulate huge amounts of plastic each year in drifts 5 to 8 feet thick, more than 20 feet wide, and miles long. 

When the energetics of plastic recycling are worked out, these floating garbage patches and plastics-rich beaches may become resource extraction areas, where harvesters gather plastics to make diesel fuel. The process is simple; it’s the energy to heat the plastics that makes this expensive as a process right now. 




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tsunami Debris and Pelagic Species


Written June 27, 2012, published July 2014

As massive amounts of floating debris begins to wash ashore from the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, March, 2011, the possibility that species local to Japanese waters could be transported to our coast in debris went abruptly from speculation to reality when a floating dock and boats arrived on beaches from BC to Oregon. With it is an opportunity to track estuarine and pelagic drift species, to determine biologically how long a floating object has been in the water.

Growing on the dock were dozens of species native to Japan, including a few that might be considered invasive. Species found and removed from the dock’s surfaces included: brown, green and red seaweeds; gooseneck and encrusting barnacles; snails; crabs; clams; several worms; bryozoans; and starfish.  Likewise the small boat that washed up on our beach was well colonized with a number species. These were in Japanese waters before the earthquake. 

A brown plastic beverage bottle and a small float both were colonized by pelagic gooseneck barnacles, Lepis anatifer, a widespread oceanic barnacle. Photo by Kathleen Sayce


Land-based floating debris carries a different set of organisms; these are typically from oceanic waters. Open water species are called pelagic, from the Greek word for open sea. A very common animal on marine debris that arrives on our beach is Lepis anatifera, the Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacle. These barnacles are often seen in the company of bryozoans and filamentous diatoms on floating objects; these species are widespread, and are found on drifting objects all over the world. 

Gooseneck barnacles are so named because they have long pedicles, or necks, which attach to subtidal rocks, and to driftwood, floats, water bottles, docks, boat hulls and soccer balls. All barnacles are hermaphrodites with internal fertilization. Eggs are held inside the shell of the adult barnacle until the larvae hatch. As drift moves across the ocean, barnacle larvae swim with it, and like many marine invertebrates, the young animals settle near or on adults of the same species. Thus multiple generations of pelagic gooseneck barnacles live on drift that has been in the water for a year or more, and only one generation of barnacles lives on drift that recently entered marine waters. 

On a recent cleanup ride with Russ Lewis, a beachcomber and volunteer with Grassroots Garbage Gang, we picked up plastic debris from Oysterville Road into Leadbetter State Park. In three hours we gathered bags of debris from the 2011 tsunami:  Numerous foam pieces, white, orange-yellow and light blue to light green, some with black roofing on it; several water bottles with Japanese logos; and fishing floats, small to large. 

This closeup of a clump of gooseneck barnacles shows that several generations of barnacles have lived on this float, indicating that it has been in the water for many months. Photo by Kathleen Sayce


One fishing float had oysters more than two inches long, encrusting barnacles, filamentous diatoms and gooseneck barnacles; this float was probably in the water before the tsunami.  The largest gooseneck barnacles we found were more than four inches long, with shells one and a half inches long. Attached to these adults were tiny gooseneck barnacles less than one half inch long. 

We did not see the numerous coastal species associated with the floating dock. Most of the debris we found was probably colonized by pelagic species after it was dragged offshore.  

Normally the biggest beach cleanup of the year is the 5th of July cleanup, when more than fifteen tons of fireworks and party debris is removed. This year and for several years to come, no one knows how much extra debris will be removed from local beaches due to the 2011 tsunami. We treasure our local beaches. If you do too, join the cleanup team on the 5th, or better yet, pick out your own mile, half mile, or quarter mile section and keep it clean year round, as dozens of Grassroots Garbage Gang volunteers already do. 





Wednesday, June 27, 2012

After the Cretaceous: The Lincoln Creek Formation

Written May 7, 2012, published June 2014

Following the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact and subsequent dying off of dinosaurs and many large reptiles, 65.5 ma (million years ago), this area was a large shallow warm sea, dotted with volcanic islands, and filled with coral and oyster reefs. Along the east side of the sea, swamps grew on low slopes near the water, near present-day Centralia and Chehalis, WA. Plants grew in these swamps that later formed layers of coal.  In fossil-speak these are called coal swamps. This sea persisted for 50 my (million years), to around 20 ma, in the early Miocene. 

Many marine fossils are found in rocks from this period, including: snails, clams, corals, crinoids, brachiopods, barnacles, sharks’ teeth, fish, whales, seals and turtles. Burrowing shrimp from 45 ma were found in marine sediments; similar shrimp species live in Willapa Bay today.  

These geologic periods had wet warm climates and considerable volcanic activity due to a nearby subduction zone. Water-washed ash mixed with marine silts and sands makes a very good fossil-preserving combination. 

Three concretions and a fossil crab (inside a fourth concretion), were loaned by Karla Nelson for this article. She found these several decades ago while camping on Lincoln Creek in the east Willapa Hills with her family. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
A distinctive round rock called a ‘concretion’ often forms in marine sediments, where as fossilization proceeds, sediments cement together to make round rocks, with the fossil at the center. Concretions form easily with small shells and crustaceans, such as shrimp, barnacles and crabs. 

An outstanding sedimentary rock formation, the Lincoln Creek Formation, is from this period. The Lincoln Creek Formation is 2,000 to 9,000 feet thick, composed of tuffaceous (ashy) siltstone to fine-grained sandstone, and formed 37 ma.  It was originally described from a site on Lincoln Creek, off the Chehalis River in the Grays River Basin, Lewis County, WA, and covers about 1500 square miles in southwest Washington, including areas of Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties. This formation has a good exposure along the Willapa River east of Raymond.  

Mollusks and crustaceans are common in the Lincoln Creek Formation, as are microscopic foraminifera. Crabs are particularly common. Karla Nelson, Time Enough Books, and her family often camped on Lincoln Creek when she was a child, and collected concretions. When opened, these concretions typically contain fossilized crabs. 

Swampy shorelines persisted in lowlands along the west side of the Cascades during the Paleocene to early Miocene Period.  Trees in these swamps included palms and many conifers, mallows, species in the rose family (hawthorn, spiraea, amelanchier, sorbus, prunus, rubus), also gingko, banana, magnolia, and grasses. Specimens of many plant and animal fossils from this period can be seen at the Burke Museum ( HYPERLINK "http://www.burkemuseum.org/" www.burkemuseum.org/ ), Seattle, WA. 

The most similar modern analog to those ancient coal swamps is mangrove thickets in the tropics. For an analog of that ancient tropical shallow sea, the most similar area today is Indonesia, including earthquakes, tsunamis and active volcanoes. 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lost Landscapes: Coastal prairies before beach grass 

Written May 31, 2012, published June 2012

One of these days I’m going to write a book about all the lost views and vanished landscapes in this area. Until that day comes, here’s a start on the changes:  Simply put, the plants that live on the dunes today are different from those of the past. This change in species also changed the appearance of the dunes.

Barbara Minard, Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum, proffered this image of the Breakers Hotel in north Long Beach; the date is between December 1900 and 1904. This is a winter or early spring photograph, showing abundant driftwood on the beach, and on the dune, very low vegetation. There’s bare sand in the foreground, and some of it may be black sand. 



Image loaned from Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum, of the Breakers Hotel, looking north. Note the extensive driftwood on the west (left side of the image), the fence near the middle left, and the treeline, well to the east of the beach and fore dune. 

The Breakers Hotel stood on the dune that formed after the last subduction zone earthquake, which was in 1700. When this photo was taken the dune was 200 years old.  Today, a row of houses stands in this spot, more than one thousand feet east of the present beach. Note that the vegetation is very low and like a patchy turf. American dunegrass is native here, and was growing in the dunes in 1900. It goes dormant in fall and dies back to the ground. Many other dune plants are also perennial and also die back to the ground in winter, so the ground would look partially bare in winter. 

In spring, an image taken at this same location would show wildflowers, including beach lupine, footsteps-of-spring, sea thrift, early blue violet, harsh paintbrush, western buttercup, checkered lily and gray beachpea. By midsummer, dune goldenrod and white brodiaea would be flowering. There may have been patches of tough-leaf iris and nodding onion. Two orchids, hooded maiden’s-tresses and coast piperia, flower in mid to late summer. Beach morning glory, yellow and pink sandverbena and beach carrot thrive in open sandy dunes.  Several other native grasses grew in small tufts and clumps. 

Today, many of these species have all but vanished from the dunes due to the arrival of introduced beachgrasses.  Pink sandverbena is so rare today that when it appeared at Leadbetter Point a few years ago, it had not been seen in Washington for more than 60 years.  Snowy Plovers, Streaked Horned Larks and Oregon Silverspot butterflies were among the animal species that thrived in these open sandy, wildflower-rich coastal prairies. 

Not all dune species have suffered. Still flowering on today’s dunes are beach strawberry, purple beachpea, and patches of yarrow, pearly everlasting and silver bursage.  Sandbur is doing very well, having made a transition from dunes to lawns, to the dismay of bare feet.  Kinnikinnick grows among shore pines, and is a good groundcover for home gardens, in both full sun and partial shade.  As for animals, native voles, shrews, and thatch ants thrive in the beachgrass dominated dunes. 

There are small fragments of coastal prairie scattered along the peninsula; they are no longer on the outer dune line, but well inland, usually more than one thousand feet from the present beach. The diversity of wildflowers in these small remnant patches is amazing.

The vanished landscape that this image hints at is a diverse coastal prairie, rich in colorful flowers, which thrived on summer drought, fire, salt, winter rain and strong winds. In comparison, today’s dunes are very nearly monocultures, dominated by two species of beachgrass.  Someone probably has summer pictures of the dunes from a century or more ago, showing those now-vanished wildflowers. I’d love to see the images of the wildflower prairie that used to flower along the ocean beach.  As for the introduced beachgrasses, these species make gorgeous green grasslands in the dunes, but these grasslands are completely different from the colorful dunes of past millennia. 


Photo courtesy Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bud-break, Leaf-out and Leaf Colors


Written March 6, 2012, published in late March, 2012

By March, there are several signs that the new growing season is reaching the Pacific Northwest coast. Salmonberries break bud, and are in flower in sheltered areas. Skunk cabbage opens its distinctive large yellow flowers. Willows flower, first the hairy outer bracts––the pussy willows, then yellow anthers, followed by white stigmas. The first Rufus Hummingbirds arrive, more aggressive and much louder than the Anna’s Hummingbirds that over-winter here. With typical night temperatures above 40 °F, male Pacific Chorus Frogs, AKA Tree Frogs, call for babes. Brant flock on Willapa Bay in larger and larger groups, restless, leaping into the air as a flock more often, settling back down to feed more slowly. The first swallows and Turkey Vultures arrive, usually in mid-March. 

Leaf-out gets underway slowly. Alders and willows flower in February and March, and after flowering, open their leaves for the season. Red alders open leaves that are light green, then darken. Willow leaves vary from silvery green to gold-green. Big-leaf maples open both leaves and flowers at the same time, with a lovely yellow-gold color. Some years, the Willapa Hills have a golden wash as the maples start leaf-out. It’s startling against a backdrop of dark green conifer foliage. Cottonwoods have a nice gold color too. Last to arrive are Garry oak and Oregon ash, both waiting well into late April or May to start; both these ‘late leafers’ have a pale gold color. 

Why are these colors important? Tree leaves are green, yes, but they don’t open up with their photosynthetic mechanisms completely in place and operational. Leaves are designed to capture light, photon by photon, and turn it into food. Simple sugars made in the leaf from basic materials––sunlight, water, carbon dioxide––become more leaves, new roots, and cellulose, the natural biopolymer that makes wood. 

As leaves unfold, the photosynthetic powerhouse inside the cells also has to assemble, and this is where light-green, gray-green, gold-green, yellow-gold, and in some cases, red, purple and near black leaf colors, come from: non-green pigments that protect the new leaf tissue from photo-destruction. Sunlight drives life, and it also can destroy plant tissues before the new chloroplasts have completely assembled.  These colors are protective pigments that keep fragile new cells alive in the presence of sunlight until their chloroplasts are green and using those photons to make sugars.

These pigments are most noticeable in spring before the chloroplasts have completely assembled. Once chloroplasts are completely operational, those leaves look green to us. The protective pigments are still there, we’ll see them again in the fall as the leaves shut down and are shed. The intense green of fully functioning leaves will hide the other colors during the summer. 

Nurseries promote plants with non-green foliage: yellow, red, purple, black. These plants were grown from abnormal plants, or in some cases, twigs on otherwise normal shrubs and trees. We like to have pleasing colors around us, including foliage that is other than simply green. And so nurseries offer conifers, hardwoods, shrubs, grasses and perennials with a range of foliage colors, all selected from naturally variable plants. The mechanism by which these colors are produced in the plants varies. Some plants produce less chlorophyll than normal, others produce higher amounts of other pigments. 

One of the most striking of the former was Kiidk'yaas (the Ancient One) also known as the Golden Spruce, a tree that lived in a forest on Haida Gwaii archipelago in northern British Columbia. This spruce had golden needles and stood like a golden spire in the forest. It lived for almost three hundred years, until a day in 1997 when it was cut down by an unemployed forest engineer making a confused political statement. His fate is unknown; he was arrested and disappeared on his way to trial. Meanwhile, cuttings of the golden spruce were grafted onto a normal green Sitka spruce by University of British Columbia researchers in the 1970s. Its progeny live today as Picea sitchensis ‘Aurea,” or “Bentham’s Sunlight.” The golden spruce lacks about eighty percent of its normal chlorophyll, and needs to grow in the shade of other trees to protect it when young. 

A very striking color change takes place in cranberries between summer and winter. Cranberries use red pigments to protect their leaves and shoots during winter, turning dark red in fall. Come spring, as plants come out of dormancy and start growing, leaf color goes back to green, though red protective colors never completely go away. 

These seasonal changes are not as striking as the fall colors and spring leaf-out of the great hardwood forests of the East Coast. In spring they herald another seasonal change: the arrival of the lawn-growing season. I’m getting my mower cleaned and its blade sharpened for another summer of tussle with my lawn. 


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where's Our Gold?  Black sand beaches and gold


Written February 23, 2012, published in March 2014

Those who visit the beaches from Leadbetter Point to Cape Disappointment probably know that southern beaches are darkest colored in winter. Benson Beach is the darkest of all, often with no light-colored sand, particularly at the north end. Black sand beaches around the world often have gold deposits, and if so, where’s the gold on this beach?

Beard's Hollow, north of North Head, is a good place to see black sands any time of year,. In this photo, the dark sands are interspersed with lighter quartz and feldspar sands in the foreground. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Black sand beaches are typically made from basalt, either from fresh lava, ground by the ocean into fine bits, which are common on Hawaiian beaches, or eroded out of hard rock by water and carried downstream in rivers. Black sands are of particular interest to miners because they often contain important minerals and elements, including iron, gold, platinum and titanium, and as such are called placers. 

Gold has been noted in black sands along the Columbia River from northeast Washington all the way downriver to the coast, and on the ocean beaches. Several river beaches became placer mines. The first mention of gold in black sands at Cape Disappointment was in a Coast Survey report to Congress in 1858.  The amounts seen were not sufficient to support gold mining, the report noted. Profitable mining is based on finding high concentrations of gold and separating it in a cost-effective manner from the surrounding non-gold materials. 


Sands sort with wind and water. In this close up, approximately 2 feet across, you can see black bars of heavy black sands, brownish feldspars in the upper left, and lighter quartz sands throughout the image. Photo by Kathleen Sayce


Water sorts minerals out by weight to make placer deposits; in geo-speak this is called gravity separation. You can often see gravity separation on the beach as the tide recedes in the summer. Mineral grains of different weight sort out with every wave, into black, brown, greenish, reflective light brown and whitish layers. Gold is about six times as heavy as quartz, the lightest element; it settles out first. The magnetic black layers are the heaviest, twice as heavy as quartz, and drop out next; they have heavy elements, including iron, manganese and titanium. The whitish and brown layers are lighter and drop out last as the water recedes; they contain lightweight silica minerals like quartz and feldspar, which are the most common minerals in our beach sands. There’s also some mica, very light, which makes the beach glitter.

Valuable placer minerals erode out of hard rocks, including basalt, granite and metamorphic rocks. Sands on the ocean beaches in Washington and Oregon were analyzed for their component minerals, in part to help determine where the beach sands come from, and also to help determine if there might be economically valuable deposits of minerals. From a book by Paul Komar, The Pacific Northwest Coast, 1998, comes a description of beach sand grains around the Columbia entrance: clear quartz, green and brown feldspar, light brown biotite, dark hypersthene (which includes black magnetite and ilmenite), dark green augite, light brown enstatite, white zircon and clear to light pink garnet. Magnetite and ilmenite minerals can contain gold or titanium along with iron, manganese and magnesium. 

Placers accumulate in locations where the heaviest sands drop out easily. These include river edges at or below low water, river mouths and deltas, coast beaches, and offshore. Where placers form on beaches, surf picks up sand grains on the benthic surface and deposits them high in the surf zone. The black sands are generally too heavy to blow around in the wind. Water does move them, though it has to be moving fast to keep sand in suspension. Storms, floods and tsunamis move around massive amounts of sand. 

On Benson Beach, Cape Disappointment State Park, in winter the quartz sands move offshore, and the black heavy sands stay behind. To the left, the beach is largely composed of black sand. In the middle, lighter quartz and feldspar sands have blown into the dune. Photo by Kathleen Sayce.

Tsunamis come immediately after local subduction zone earthquakes, and flood uplands with ocean sands. The erosions that follows pulls light sands off local beaches and leaves behind heavier minerals in a large-scale gravity-separation process. In geologic time, local earthquakes generated in the Cascadia subduction zone have been followed by hundreds of feet of beach erosion before the shoreline stabilizes and a new outer dune rebuilds. This has been well documented by students of Curt Peterson, Portland State University, and others. 

In the months following earthquakes the surf carries sands back onshore to form a new dune. Placers are buried at the bottom of this new dune. More geo-speak: placers are called lags or lag deposits when they are placed at the base of dunes. As with the sorting at wave edges, lighter sands move more easily in wind and water, and are re-sorted and placed higher. Black sands end up being concentrated at the dune base.  The tsunami-derived placers under our old dunes are several feet thick. These iron-rich placers often give a distinctive orange tinge and iron taste to water from shallow wells pumping water from this layer. Some gold is at the bottom of dunes in lag deposits. 

Sea level also determines where gold goes. During the past 1.9 million years of the Pleistocene Epoch, sea level was as much as 350 ft lower than today. The Columbia River and other local rivers carried sediments past the local area and out to the edge of the continental shelf in river channels.  This Pleistocene gold is largely in the deep ocean today, or well buried in those river channels at historic low sea levels levels, and covered by younger sediments. 

When the great floods from the Glacial Lakes in the Rockies occurred, sea level was still so low, 300 to 200 feet below today’s level, that those floods roared past in the Columbia River Valley, and out the Astoria Canyon. This ‘glacial floods’ gold is also in the deep ocean and at the lower end of the continental shelf in the Astoria canyon and alluvial fan. 

Today, ocean currents spread sands from the Columbia northwest across the continental shelf. Surf carries some sands east to the beaches, constantly reworking and sorting the fine to heavy grains. Only the heaviest surf can move the heaviest sands, so most of the heavy grains stay behind in deeper waters. This gold is on the continental shelf, spread northwest of the Columbia River. If there are deposits worthy of mining, this is likely where they will be, in the ocean northwest of the entrance. Mining is possible, once concentrated deposits are located, but extraction damages fish and crab habitat. When damaged, it takes years to recover natural productivity on the benthic surface.  

River water slows as it reaches the ocean, dropping most of its sand at the Columbia River Entrance. Historically, Benson Beach was on the main channel, and received considerable black sand from the river as it wrapped around Cape Disappointment. This beach and buried sands at depth around Baker’s Bay probably have more gold than any other beach in this area, but still not enough to justify mining. There are too many non-valuable minerals mixed in with it. 

One of Paul Komar’s graduate students sampled sands along the beaches from Seaside to Leadbetter, and noted another black sand concentration at Leadbetter Point. He proposed that currents from Willapa Bay helped stop longshore movement of sand, and re-concentrated black sands in the Willapa Entrance. Lighter sands made it across and went on north; heavy sands stayed at the Point. 

With the main channel pushed south early in the twentieth century, most black sands from the Columbia River today are deposited around that channel and Clatsop spit. New black sand deposits are forming today on the south side of the river. Channel dredging shifts a little modern river gold offshore with every load, creating small placers in the dredge disposal areas. 

This is where our gold is: scattered all over, under dunes, at the Columbia and Willapa Entrances, in the ocean, in deeply buried sands along rivers and in channels. Unfortunately, it’s not up on the beach where it’s easy to find and remove.