Lakeside Park clay

31 October 2016

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They’ve been building some new parking in Lakeside Park, near the boathouse, and the work opened up the subsoil to view. You’re looking at a hard, pure marine clay from a time when the sea rode high, late in the Pleistocene Epoch.

Lakeside Park sits on the flat surface of a terrace a little over 20 feet elevation. It matches other surfaces in the Uptown/Valdez area and in old Clinton, all of which are assigned an age of around 125,000 years.

The scenario is this: As the great continental glaciers melted well beyond their extent today, the sea brimmed over and rose about 6 meters above its present level. The advancing waves carved their way into the Oakland landscape, creating a wave-cut platform, and then all was peaceful for a few thousand years. That’s when the nice clay topping was laid down. Only the finest sediment could get this far away from the new shore because all the stream valleys were drowned.

Later the Earth’s orbital cycles proceeded, the climate cooled, the glaciers grew back and the sea retreated. On this side of the bay, far from the Pacific surf, the process was gentle enough to leave behind much of the evidence. Elsewhere in the East Bay, the clay beds from this time were thick enough to support a brick industry.

Relish our local water

24 October 2016

Next month, East Bay MUD will finish shutting down its 80-year-old Orinda water treatment plant for six months of rehabilitation. For the last few weeks, Oakland residents have been drinking water from our own local San Pablo and Upper San Leandro reservoirs.

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Consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to savor artisanal water from local watersheds. True, much of the water in these reservoirs is pumped there from our main source, the Mokelumne River in the Sierra Nevada. But just last week nearly two inches of rainfall fell on these watersheds. More will come.

The water from Upper San Leandro Reservoir is piped through the hills to EBMUD’s treatment plant in Oakland just north of Keller Avenue and west of I-580, seen here in Google Maps. The San Pablo Reservoir serves a plant in El Sobrante.

usltreatmentplant

There the raw water undergoes a series of physical and chemical operations to make it safe and potable. This is the stage that they screwed up in Flint, Michigan, by changing the water source but not adjusting the treatment to the new water.

We treat water as a utility that comes out of faucets, but water’s not like electricity — it’s a varying natural product that needs constant, professional attention. All water starts out wild. Even after treatment, water changes its taste from time to time. It’s always healthy, though, especially compared to raw water.

Think of the next few months as a visit to the past. A hundred years ago Oaklanders were getting their water from local wells, local water companies, or Lake Temescal (1868) and Lake Chabot (1870), two impoundments created by Anthony Chabot to support the growing city. The water was purified with simpler methods including sand filtration. The San Pablo (1919) and Upper San Leandro reservoirs (1926) were the first new surface storage built in generations, and this winter we’ll be relying on them as mainstays.

Follow your reservoirs every day on the EBMUD site.

This post about Oakland groundwater got a long, productive set of comments.

The coming trauma

17 October 2016
US Geological Survey photo by John Nakata

Ruins of the Cypress Structure after the 17 October 1989 earthquake. US Geological Survey photo by John Nakata

When the giant Tohoku earthquake struck Japan on 11 March 2011, followed by a colossal tsunami and the crippling of two nuclear power plants, the effects rippled out in many directions. In my chosen community of Earth scientists, there were many phenomena to investigate; in the engineering community, many case studies to enter in the record; in the disaster-response community, many failures to learn from.

To Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist based in New York, it was the chance to accept movie director Yoshihiro Nishimura‘s invitation to work together on a feature film project at a time when movie crews were unexpectedly idle.

The story Murakami chose to tell grew out of witnessing the extensive failures of the nation’s authorities, failures that everyone saw firsthand. Lest we forget, the Pacific coast of northern Honshu was first laid in ruins by the earthquake and then overwhelmed by the tsunami. Both were larger than anyone, even the experts, foresaw. The tsunami in turn caused the explosive failure of the Fukushima Number 2 nuclear power plant, spewing radioactive material over a large — still depopulated — area of land.

Murakami drew upon his childhood exposure to gojira monster cartoons, his experience teaching kindergarten and his love of modern anime to craft a cathartic exploration of the Tohoku trauma, costumed as a children’s fantasy. Just two years later the resulting film, “Jellyfish Eyes,” was released in Japan. The Oakland Library has a copy of the Criterion disk, issued in 2015.

In “Jellyfish Eyes” a newly fatherless boy, Masashi, is displaced to a strange and challenging city. He meets and adopts a hovering, spritelike creature who befriends and protects him from similar creatures controlled by his new classmates. These “friends,” supplied by an advanced research lab in the city, are part of a scheme by renegades in the lab to harvest negative emotions from the children, especially Masashi, and acquire a new source of cosmic power. A classic Godzilla plot provides the climax, and the “friends” become benign at the end.

Critics faulted its quick-and-dirty CGI, stylized plot and cartoon visuals. I’m not sophisticated enough a film viewer to care. Those things work. I appreciated Murakami’s singular focus on his audience of Japanese children, a traumatized generation with its own culture and its own need for sensitive candor. I appreciated that he avoided studio financing, knowing that funders would insist on removing the blood (a few drops) and radiation (a few mentions).

“Jellyfish Eyes” is authentically Japanese, as it should be. American viewers won’t get all the hat-tips and references. But they should be able to easily see the deep emotional story beneath the plot — how a disaster hurts and how we can come back from one.

In Oakland, we have an overwhelming earthquake in our own future. We all know it will destroy things no matter how well we prepare. We know the government, whatever it does, cannot do enough. How will our youngest children respond? How will we respond to their needs? Until our own Murakami can rise to the occasion, we’ll have to study the experience of others and do the best we can.