The Las Aromas serpentinite

26 September 2014

The southern edge of the Piedmont Pines neighborhood butts against Joaquin Miller Park, and there’s no reason to visit if you don’t happen to live there—except if you like serpentinite. The street named Las Aromas dips into the belt of serpentinite that extends up and over the ridge to Serpentine Prairie, and the rock type is well exposed. One resident has done a lot of landscaping in this inhospitable rock type.

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The scaly structure is typical of serpentinite, and here it’s fairly close to the Hayward fault. Farther uphill is this exposure, where the grain of the rock is parallel to the street.

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Its blue-green color is striking. And there are a few spots where friction in the recent geologic past has turned it glossy. The rocks aren’t as spectacular as Serpentine Prairie itself, but they’re still noteworthy.

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I never tire of our state rock. Speaking of Serpentine Prairie, today on KQED Science there’s a story on the ongoing effort to propagate the rare Presidio Clarkia. (I photographed it a few years ago before they fenced off the area.)

After Oakland’s Big One, expect a rush of water

8 September 2014

In the days since the South Napa earthquake of 24 August, the people and press appear to be astonished as the local streams have filled with water. The Chronicle published a good summary yesterday. But this always happens with a decent-sized earthquake. It will happen here. You can expect to see this stretch of Arroyo Viejo, in the middle of Hegenberger Expressway, full of freshly released groundwater.

hegenstream

There were widespread reports of this kind in 1857, after the the great Fort Tejon earthquake of 9 January:

On a range of hills, about fifteen miles from the coast, in the district of San Fernando, we understand that a surveying party have discovered quite a large stream making out of the mountain and down a cañon, where, to their knowledge and complete satisfaction, not to say to their sorrow, no water was running or could be found previous to the earthquake. By the letter from Tejón, it will be seen that a similar circumstance occurred in that vicinity. Los Angeles Star, 17 January 1857

Just back of my camp was the dry bed of a stream, where in heavy rains water had at one time run; in this bed two weeks before I had sunk a well some 20 feet hoping to find water, but at that depth the earth was so dry I gave it up as fruitless. Two days after the first or heavy shock a little stream of muddy water was running by my camp which continued to increase each day, until when we moved was quite a little rivulet: no doubt the result of some new fissure in the mountain. Letter of W. E. Greenwell, U.S. Coast Survey, 24 February 1857

The effect upon some of the artesian wells in this neighborhood was remarkable: for a moment the water ceased to flow from the pipes, and then gushed out in greater volume and with more power than usual; we have heard that the channels of other wells, which had become obstructed, and ceased to discharge water, have become re-opened and the subterranean current is now flowing out from the orifice. San Jose Telegraph, 13 January 1857

The water goes away after a few weeks. UCB geologist Michael Manga explained the phenomenon in a talk I attended in May of last year: The shaking settles the bedrock, which in turn forces the groundwater it contains upward. In effect, the rock’s permeability in the vertical direction increases as a result of basement consolidation. This is the same basic mechanism that creates quicksand. Studies after the 1999 Taiwan (Chi-Chi) earthquake showed that this water would be replaced in about 140 years—which is coincidentally the average interval between large quakes on the Hayward fault in the last thousand years. The effect takes place within a rupture length of the fault—that accounts for the response of wells in San Jose to a Southern California earthquake whose rupture ran about 360 kilometers, from Parkfield to Cajon Pass.

Oakland’s droughtproof lake

5 September 2014

I’ve been walking around town a lot this year, and our perennial streams still have running water even in the third year of severe drought. If we still had any natural lakes, I think they’d be suffering, just like our reservoirs. But we don’t. Whatever else happens, we have Lake Merritt.

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Lake Merritt isn’t like other lakes: it’s an arm of the Bay. So let’s relish our luck and make the most of our inexhaustible, droughtproof “lake.”

Oakland Harbor will save the nation when the Big One hits

3 September 2014

harborcranes

I’m attending the Third International Conference on Earthquake Early Warning, which is happening at UC Berkeley through Friday. It’s a lively gathering of specialists and officials from earthquake country all over the world. What’s galvanizing everybody is the possibility of dramatic progress in California, now that the government has passed a law that establishes a statewide early-warning system modeled on ShakeAlert, which has been quietly beta testing for more than two years.

It came up during discussion today that the West Coast has five of America’s largest seaports, and a major earthquake that disables one or more of them will affect not just the nation’s, but the entire world’s economy. OK: the West Coast has three areas that produce major earthquakes. Ours, the Bay area’s part of the San Andreas fault complex, is the least of them. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake (M 7.8) and the similarly large 1868 Hayward quake? Those are our signature quakes, and we’re third on the list. Southern California is capable of larger ones (M 8), and Cascadia, which reaches from Cape Mendocino up past the Canadian border, produces the largest quakes by far (M 9).

A Big One that knocks out Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors will not affect Oakland. Neither will the Monster One that disables Seattle, Tacoma and Portland. Oakland Harbor will be the backup port of call after either of those events. And of course they’ll share the load if we’re out of action.

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In any case, Oakland Harbor is a natural facility for using an early-alert system. So is Oakland Airport—imagine an alert coming in to the control tower that strong shaking will arrive in 20 seconds. This is exactly the kind of rapid decision-making information that the airline community is trained to respond to already. I foresee our airport and our port being early early-warning adopters. BART is already part of the ShakeAlert beta testing network. Watch those guys.

Mountain roads

23 August 2014

Walking up Mountain Boulevard in the Laundry Canyon area takes you through one of Oakland’s old mining and timber districts. (Laundry Canyon proper is under the Warren Freeway.) First there’s the pyrite mine that I mentioned in the previous post. Then, looking up Bermuda Avenue toward the hills, you’ll spot a tempting area of exposed rock.

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That’s actually a switchback in the road that once served the Hotel Mine, at least that’s what’s shown in the Laundry Canyon historical map hosted on Oaklandwiki. The road meets Mountain Boulevard a little north of here.

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If this doesn’t tempt you, you have no blood in your veins. The land is within the city’s Leona Heights Park.

Knowing this historical background, it’s a safe guess that the flat Bermuda/Belfast Avenue neighborhood, with its sidewalks and homes dating from the late 1920s, is a former staging area for the various quarries and mines that once existed here.

Farther north on Mountain is the entrance to Horseshoe Canyon, the main attraction of Leona Heights Park. This path (technically, it’s Oakleaf Street) runs below the Leona Lodge and will take you all the way up to the former rock quarry by Merritt College.

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A couple years ago, Dennis Evanosky led a walk through this neighborhood for the Oakland Urban Paths group.

Mine creek at Twitter Court

17 August 2014

I’ve shown you the ugly orange streambed just below the old McDonell pyrite mine. Farther downstream, the creek (which I’ll name Mine creek) emerges from private backyards next to Mountain Boulevard at Twitter Court.

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It’s still pretty orange here, from extremely small (colloidal) particles of iron oxide minerals that form as the acid drainage from the mine is neutralized. The creek enters a culvert here and disappears. Somewhere under the Warren Freeway, it joins Lion Creek on its way to the bay. Lion Creek appears next as Lake Aliso on the Mills College campus, and unless the lakebed is all orange too, the pollution has been fully neutralized by that point. As I’ve said before, the pollution looks awful, but without chemical tests we can’t tell if it’s poisonous. Iron oxides by themselves are not a great hazard.

Local boulders in the Calaveras triangle

8 August 2014

Where the Warren Freeway ends in its merge into I-580, most people drive south onto 580 east. The handful of locals or lost drivers who instead take the last exit to get onto 580 west will go through perhaps 580’s most deserted interchange. That’s where the highway builders installed this humble triangle, splitting the freeway exit for the even smaller handful of drivers going east on Calaveras Avenue to Mountain Boulevard and those going west, briefly, on Calaveras and onto the upramp to 580 west. The triangle is paved with river cobbles and populated with natives.

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The oak trees are easy enough to see in this view from across Calaveras. But what’s that in their shade? Why it’s one of several large local boulders.

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I didn’t take notes, but I think these are Leona volcanics, the same stuff that was quarried nearby for decades at the Leona Quarry. Pay them a visit next time you’re walking or biking through that godforsaken area. Sit on them in the shade; they like that.


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