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Cascades

How low will they go? The response of headwater streams in the Oregon Cascades to the 2015 drought

From a distance, Anne has been watching an incredibly unusual summer play out in the Pacific Northwest, following a winter with far less snow (but more rain) than usual. Folks on the ground in Oregon have been collecting data on the response of the Oregon Cascades streams to “no snow, low flow” conditions. Anne is making minor contributions to the following poster, to be presented in Session No. 291, Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology (Posters) at Booth# 101 on Wednesday, 4 November 2015: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM.

HOW LOW WILL THEY GO? THE RESPONSE OF HEADWATER STREAMS IN THE OREGON CASCADES TO THE 2015 DROUGHT

LEWIS, Sarah L.1, GRANT, Gordon E.2, NOLIN, Anne W.1, HEMPEL, Laura A.1, JEFFERSON, Anne J.3 and SELKER, John S.4, (1)College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, (2)Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, 3200 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis, OR 97331-8550, (3)Department of Geology, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242, (4)Biological & Ecological Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, sarah.lewis@oregonstate.edu

Larger rivers draining the Oregon Cascades are sourced from headwater systems with two distinct runoff regimes: surface-flow dominated watersheds with flashy hydrographs, rapid baseflow recession, and very low summer flows; and spring-fed systems, with slow-responding hydrographs, long baseflow recession, and summer flow sustained by deep groundwater fed coldwater springs. Our previous research has explored these differences on both the wet west-side and dry east-side of the Cascade crest, as expressed in contrasting discharge and temperature regimes, drainage efficiency, low and peak flow dynamics, and sensitivity to snowpack and climate change scenarios. In 2015, record low winter snowpack combined with an anomalously dry spring resulted in historically low flows across our research sites and throughout Oregon. These extreme meteorological conditions, equivalent to a 4°C warming scenario, offer an exceptional opportunity to witness how these contrasting stream networks might respond to anticipated changes in amount and timing of recharge.
Conceptually, channel network response to decreasing discharge may involve both lateral and longitudinal contraction. Lateral contraction, the decrease of wetted channel width and depth, occurs in both surface-flow and spring-fed streams as flows diminish. Longitudinal contraction may be expressed as (a) a gradual drying of the stream channel and downstream retreat of the channel head, (b) a “jump” of the channel head downstream to the next spring when an upper spring goes dry, or (c) no change in channel head despite diminishing flows. We hypothesize that while individual stream channels may display a combination of these dynamics, surface-flow and spring-fed watersheds will have distinctive and different behaviors. We field test our hypothesis by monitoring channel head locations in 6 watersheds during the low flow recession of 2015, and repeatedly measuring discharge, water quality and hydraulic geometry at a longitudinal array of sites along each surface-flow or spring-fed channel. The resulting data set can be used to explore the fundamental processes by which drainage networks accommodate decreasing flows.

EGU Abstract: Potential impact of lava flows on regional water supplies: case study of central Oregon Cascades volcanism and the Willamette Valley, USA

This abstract was just submitted to the European Geosciences Union meeting for a session on “NH9.9. Natural hazard impact on technological systems and urban areas.” I won’t get to go to Vienna in April, but at least a little bit of my science will. Thanks to Natalia for finding a graceful way to integrate our work.

Potential impact of lava flows on regional water supplies: case study of central Oregon Cascades volcanism and the Willamette Valley, USA

Natalia I. Deligne, Katharine V. Cashman, Gordon E. Grant, Anne Jefferson

Lava flows are often considered to be natural hazards with localized bimodal impact – they completely destroy everything in their path, but apart from the occasional forest fire, cause little or no damage outside their immediate footprint. However, in certain settings, lava flows can have surprising far reaching impacts with the potential to cause serious problems in distant urban areas. Here we present results from a study of the interaction between lava flows and surface water in the central Oregon Cascades, USA, where we find that lava flows in the High Cascades have the potential to cause considerable water shortages in Eugene, Oregon (Oregon’s second largest metropolitan area) and the greater Willamette Valley (home to ~70% of Oregon’s population). The High Cascades host a groundwater dominated hydrological regime with water residence times on the order of years. Due to the steady output of groundwater, rivers sourced in the High Cascades are a critical water resource for Oregon, particularly in August and September when it has not rained for several months. One such river, the McKenzie River, is the sole source of drinking water for Eugene, Oregon, and prior to the installation of dams in the 1960s accounted for ~40% of river flow in the Willamette River in Portland, 445 river km downstream of the source of the McKenzie River. The McKenzie River has been dammed at least twice by lava flows during the Holocene; depending the time of year that these eruptions occurred, we project that available water would have decreased by 20% in present-day Eugene, Oregon, for days to weeks at a time. Given the importance of the McKenzie River and its location on the margin of an active volcanic area, we expect that future volcanic eruptions could likewise impact water supplies in Eugene and the greater Willamette Valley. As such, the urban center of Eugene, Oregon, and also the greater Willamette Valley, is vulnerable to the most benign of volcanic hazards, lava flows, located over 100 km away.

AGU 2011 abstract: Controls on the hydrologic evolution of Quaternary volcanic landscapes

The following talk will be presented in the 2011 AGU fall meeting session on “EP41F. Posteruptive Processes Operating on Volcanic Landscapes I” on Thursday, December 8th from 9:15 to 9:30 am.

Controls on the hydrologic evolution of Quaternary volcanic landscapes
Anne J. Jefferson and Noemi d’Ozouville

1. Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, United States.
2. UMR 7619 Sisyphe CNRS & UPMC, Universite Paris 6, Paris, France.

Conceptual models that explain the evolution of young volcanic landscapes require the prominent inclusion of processes which affect partitioning of water between surface and subsurface flows. Recently emplaced lava flows have no surface drainage, with infiltration to groundwater as the dominant hydrologic process. Older volcanic landscapes are often dominated by extensive drainage networks, fed by permanent or intermittent streams, which have deeply dissected the constructional topography. Drainage density, topography, and stream and groundwater discharge provide readily quantifiable measures of hydrologic and landscape evolution on volcanic chronosequences. We will use examples from the High Cascades, Galapagos, and elsewhere to illustrate the trajectories and timescales of hydrologic evolution.

We suggest that the surface-subsurface water partitioning is a function of volcanic architecture, climate-driven processes, and water-rock interactions. We will show that in mafic volcanic areas, climate-driven processes (such as weathering and dust deposition) control landscape evolution, while explosive eruptive products may be important for local hydrology. In the High Cascades, where precipitation exceeds 2 m/yr, landscape dissection has obliterated constructional morphology within 1 million years, while in the more arid Galapagos, million year old landscapes are largely undissected. Conversely, localized groundwater perching on pyroclastic layers or paleosols has been characterized in the Galapagos, but not in the Cascades, where pyroclastic activity is more limited in extent. In areas where explosive activity, including phreatomagmatism, dominates volcanism, the evolution of hydrology and topography occurs much more rapidly than in landscapes created by effusion. Hydrothermal circulation and water-rock interactions may play an important role in reducing deep permeability and altering subsurface flowpaths in some volcanic landscapes. Observed chronosequences can be complicated by juxtaposition of different age deposits, post-emplacement faulting, uplift or subsidence, and climate change, so detailed understanding of the landscape’s geologic history is a prerequisite for appropriate interpretation of hydrologic evolution in volcanic landscapes.

Lush vegetation in a pit crater on Santa Cruz Island

A "pit crater" in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos shows preferential vegetation growth at the contact between lava flows, probably where water is more available. Photo by A. Jefferson.

New paper: Seasonal versus transient snow and the elevation dependence of climate sensitivity in maritime mountainous regions

Snowline near Skykomish, Washington (photo on Flickr by RoguePoet, used under Creative Commons)

Snowline near Skykomish, Washington (photo on Flickr by RoguePoet, used under Creative Commons)

Jefferson, A. 2011. Seasonal versus transient snow and the elevation dependence of climate sensitivity in maritime mountainous regions, Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L16402, doi:10.1029/2011GL048346.

Abstract:

In maritime mountainous regions, the phase of winter precipitation is elevation dependent, and in watersheds receiving both rain and snow, hydrologic impacts of climate change are less straightforward than in snowmelt-dominated systems. Here, 29 Pacific Northwest watersheds illustrate how distribution of seasonal snow, transient snow, and winter rain mediates sensitivity to 20th century warming. Watersheds with >50% of their area in the seasonal snow zone had significant (? ? 0.1) trends towards greater winter and lower summer discharge, while lower elevations had no consistent trends. In seasonal snow-dominated watersheds, runoff occurs 22–27 days earlier and minimum flows are 5–9% lower than in 1962, based on Sen’s slope over the period. Trends in peak streamflow depend on whether watershed area susceptible to rain-on-snow events is increasing or decreasing. Delineation of elevation-dependent snow zones identifies climate sensitivity of maritime mountainous watersheds and enables planning for water and ecosystem impacts of climate change.

New publication: Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA

ResearchBlogging.org

How does a landscape go from looking like this…

<2000 year old landscape on basaltic lava with no surface drainage

~1500 year old basaltic lava landscape with no surface drainage

to looking like this?

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava. Note steep slopes and incised valleys

Find out in my new paper in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.

Hint: Using a chronosequence of watersheds in the Oregon Cascades, we argue that the rates and processes of landscape evolution are driven by whether the water sinks into the lava flows and moves slowly toward springs with steady hydrographs or whether the water moves quickly through the shallow subsurface and creates streams with flashy hydrographs. Further, we suggest that this water routing is controlled by an elusive landscape-scale permeability which decreases over time as processes like chemical weathering create soil and clog up pores in the rock. And as a bonus, because of the high initial permeability of basaltic landscapes, the formation of stream networks and the dissection of the landscape appears to take far longer than in places with less permeable lithologies.

Jefferson, A., Grant, G., Lewis, S., & Lancaster, S. (2010). Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 35 (7), 803-816 DOI: 10.1002/esp.1976

When it rains a lot and the mountains fall down

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

2006 debris flow deposit in the Eliot Glacier drainage, north flank of Mount Hood (Photo by Anne Jefferson)

The geo-image bonanza of this month’s Accretionary Wedge gives me a good reason to make good on a promise I made a few months ago. I promised to write about what can happen on the flanks of Pacific Northwest volcanoes when a warm, heavy rainfall hits glacial ice at the end of a long melt season. The image above shows the result…warm heavy rainfall + glaciers + steep mountain flanks + exposed unconsolidated sediments are a recipe for debris flows in the Cascades. Let me tell you the story of this one.

It was the first week of November 2006, and a “pineapple express” (warm, wet air from the tropic Pacific) had moved into the Pacific Northwest. This warm front increased temperatures and brought rain to the Cascades…a lot of rain. In the vicinity of Mt. Hood, there was more than 34 cm in 6 days, and that’s at elevations where we have rain gages. Higher on the mountain, there may even have been more rain…and because it was warm, it was *all* rain. Normally, at this time of year, the high mountain areas would only get snow.

While it was raining, my collaborators and I were sitting in our cozy, dry offices in Corvallis, planning a really cool project to look at the impact of climate change on glacial meltwater contributions to the agriculturally-important Hood River valley. Outside, nature was opting to make our on-next field season a bit more tricky. We planned to install stream gages at the toe of the Eliot and Coe glaciers on the north flank of Mt. Hood, as well as farther downstream where water is diverted for irrigation. But instead of nice, neat, stable stream channels, when we went out to scout field sites the following spring, we were greeted by scenes like the one above.

Because sometime on 6 or 7 November, the mountain flank below Eliot Glacier gave way…triggering a massive debris flow that roared down Eliot Creek, bulking up with sediment along the way and completely obliterating any signs of the pre-existing stream channel. By the time the flow reached the area where the irrigation diversion occur, it had traveled 7 km in length and 1000 m in elevation, and it had finally reached the point where the valley opens up and the slope decreases. So the sediment began to drop out. And debris flows can carry some big stuff (like the picture below) and like the bridge that was washed out, carried downstream 100 m and turned sideways.

2006 Eliot Glacier debris flow deposit (photo by Anne Jefferson)

2006 Eliot Glacier debris flow deposit (photo by Anne Jefferson)

In this area, the deposit is at least 300 m wide and at least a few meters deep.

Eliot Creek, April 2007 (photo by Anne Jefferson)

Eliot Creek, April 2007 (photo by Anne Jefferson)

With all the big debris settling out, farther downstream the river was content to just flood…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4eduMJU710]
Youtube video from dankleinsmith of the Hood River flooding at the Farmers Irrigation Headgates

and flood…

West Fork Hood River flood, November 2006 from http://elskablog.wordpress.com/2006/11

West Fork Hood River flood, November 2006 from http://elskablog.wordpress.com/2006/11/. For the same view during normal flows, take a look at my picture from April 2007: http://scienceblogs.com/highlyallochthonous/upload/2009/10/IMG_1108.JPG.

and create a new delta where Hood River enters the Columbia.

Hood River delta created in November 2006 (photo found at http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc30876.php)

Hood River delta created in November 2006 (photo found at http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc30876.php

And it wasn’t just Mt. Hood’s Eliot Glacier drainage that took a beating in this event. Of the 11 drainages on Mt. Hood, seven experienced debris flows, including a rather spectacular one at White River that closed the main access to a popular ski resort. And every major volcano from Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Rainier experienced debris flows, with repercussions ranging from downstream turbidity affecting the water supply for the city of Salem to the destruction of popular trails, roads, and campgrounds in Mt. Rainier National Park (pdf, but very cool photos).

In the end, our project on climate change and glacial meltwater was funded, we managed to collect some neat data in the Eliot and Coe watersheds in the summer of 2007, and the resulting paper is wending its way through review. The November 2006 debris flows triggered at least two MS thesis projects and some serious public attention to debris flow hazards in the Pacific Northwest. They also gave me some really cool pictures.

The Hydrology and Evolution of Basaltic Landscapes: Notes from GSA Sunday

This post is cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous. Please look over there for any comments.


Like many North American geobloggers, I’ve recently returned from the Geological Society of America meeting in Portland, Oregon. It was a bittersweet trip for me, as it was a return to my spiritual homeland, where I spent five happy years working on the rocks and waters of the Cascade Range. Since then, I’ve felt a bit exiled on the Eastern Seaboard, so it was perhaps apropos that the trip back was a bit of a tease…in my four days in Oregon, I did not manage to see a single mountain. The picture to the right is the Hood River, draining the north side of Mt. Hood, about 45 minutes east of Portland. It was taken in April 2007, during field work for my post-doc.

Sunday

After an unexpectedly long layover in Phoenix and an entirely unexpected layover in San Francisco (thank you, US Airways), I arrived in Portland at 1 am local time Sunday morning. With any potential time-change/jet-lag problems thus mitigated, I arrived bright eyed for the first talks on Sunday morning.

The main order of business on Sunday morning was the Pardee Keynote Symposium on “The Evolution of Basaltic Landscapes: Time and River and the Lava Flowing.” I arrived in time to hear a fascinating talk on “Impacts of basaltic volcanism on incised fluvial systems: does the river give a dam?” by blogger/tweep/mapper extraordinaire Kyle House. He was talking about the lava dams, debris flows, and river incision of the Owyhee River of eastern Oregon. After a few gorgeous photos accompanied magnificent Lidar images, I was thoroughly convinced of the utility of Lidar for high-resolution geological mapping. I was also salivating at the thought of a whole day of water + lava talks full of gorgeous volcano photos.

After Steve Ingebritsen gave a lovely overview of the hydrogeology of basalts, Dennis Geist convinced me that I absolutely have to go to the Galapagos Islands, by showing pictures of volcanoes with whales for scale. His talk focused on the connections between geology and biology in the Galapagos, and got me thinking about the implications of volcanic emergence and subsidence for the evolution of the creatures of the famous archipelago. While Geist tried to convince his audience that the vegetation of the Galapagos is supported with basically no soil, neither I nor the next speaker, Oliver Chadwick, quite believed him on that point.

Indeed Chadwick talked about the patterns and processes of soil development on basaltic landscapes, where weathering rates depend not only on the usual climatic factors but also on the flow texture – with aa and pahoehoe flows exhibitting different patterns and timescales of soil development. For my own work, one key point that Chadwick made was “At some point in the history of lava flows, the surface becomes less permeable than the whole…” I think that statement has implications for the way we think about drainage development in basaltic landscapes, but I’ll wait to say more about that until my publication and/or funding record bear me out.

I spent my afternoon thinking more about basalt hydrology, in a session on “Hydrologic Characterization and Simulation of Neogene Volcanic Terranes.” I’ve got lots of notes from that session that are probably of interest only to me, but I will say that it was exciting to hear one of the grad student speakers say to me “I’ve been reading your dissertation” and to hear my work cited more than once. It is such a relief to know that people working in the field actually find my work interesting or useful. Towards the end of the session, I gave a talk on the geomorphic and hydrologic co-evolution of the central Oregon Cascades Range. My talk was based on a paper that has undergone several major revisions since my Ph.D. days, and it was a pleasure to share the latest and greatest incarnation of my thinking on the subject. The pleasure was immeasurably increased by a recent letter from the journal editor giving me only very minor revisions to do before acceptance.

On Sunday evening, the attendees of the morning talks reconvened for a wine tasting with a geological theme – the terroir of taste of Oregon wines grown on basalt versus sandstone. The wine was donated by Willamette Valley Vineyards (basalt) and King Estate (sandstone), and we got to hear from the wine makers as we sipped their wares. According to them, if you see a 2008 Willamette Valley appellation Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris, snap it up. They reckon it will be the best year ever for Oregon wines. That’s saying quite a bit, since Oregon is consistently recognized as one of the world’s best Pinot producing regions.

After a day of stimulating talks and invigorating conversation, I was ready to dive into two days focused on groundwater-surface water interactions and a day of snow, mega-floods, and debris flows to round out my conference. But my notes on those days will have to wait for now, as those paper revisions are not taking care of themselves.

GSA Abstract: On a template set by basalt flows, hydrology and erosional topography coevolve in the Oregon Cascade Range

The Watershed Hydrogeology Lab is going to be busy at this year’s Geological Society of America annual meeting in Portland, Oregon in October. We’ve submitted four abstracts for the meeting, I am co-convening a session, and I’ll be helping lead a pre-meeting field trip.

I’ll be an invited speaker in a session on “Hydrologic Characterization and Simulation of Neogene Volcanic Terranes (T27)” and here’s my abstract:

On a template set by basalt flows, hydrology and erosional topography coevolve in the Oregon Cascade Range

Anne Jefferson

Young basalt terrains offer an exceptional opportunity to understand landscape and hydrologic evolution over time, since the age of landscape construction can be determined by dating lava flows. I use a chronosequence of watersheds in the Oregon Cascade Range to examine how topography and hydrology change over time in basalt landscapes. Western slopes of the Oregon Cascade Range are formed from lava flows ranging from Holocene to Eocene in age, with watersheds of all ages have similar climate, vegetation and relief. Abundant precipitation (2.0 to 3.5 m/yr) falls on this landscape, and young basalts are highly permeable, so Holocene and late Pleistocene lavas host large groundwater systems. Groundwater flowpaths dictated by lava geometry transmit most recharge to large springs. Spring hydrographs have low peak flows and slow recessions during dry summers, and springs and groundwater-fed streams show little evidence of geomorphically effective incision. In the Cascades, drainage density increases linearly with time, accompanied by progressive hillslope steepening and valley incision. In watersheds >1 Ma, springs are absent and well-developed drainage networks fed by shallow subsurface flow produce flashy hydrographs with rapid summer recessions. A combination of mechanical, chemical, and biological processes acting within and on top of lava flows may reduce permeability over time, forcing flowpaths closer to the land surface. These shallow flowpaths produce flashy hydrographs with peakflows capable of sediment transport and landscape dissection. From these observations, I infer that the geomorphic evolution of basalt landscapes is dependent on their evolution from deep to shallow flowpaths.

Cascades hydrogeology on front page of the Oregonian

The front page feature of today’s Oregonian (Portland’s major newspaper) features research on groundwater in the Cascades: The secret’s out: Tons of water in Oregon’s Cascades.

Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University have in recent years quietly realized that the high Cascades in Oregon and far Northern California contain an immense subterranean reservoir about as large as the biggest man-made reservoirs in the country.

The secret stockpile stores close to seven years’ worth of Oregon rain and snow and is likely to become increasingly precious, even priceless, as population and climate add pressure to water supplies.

The reservoir hides within young volcanic rock — less than 1 million years old — in the highest reaches of the Cascades. The rock is so full of cracks and fissures it forms a kind of vast geological sponge. Heavy rain and snow falling on the rock percolate into the sponge, like a river filling a reservoir.

“It’s not just the fact we get a lot of rain in Oregon that gives us copious amounts of water,” says Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station leading the research. “It’s the unique geology — the plumbing system — that allows us to retain much of it.”

Much of the work summarized in the article was associated with my Ph.D. research. For some of the details, you can read here and here. For a more complete list of related publications, see here.