Puget Sound Mapping Has Begun!

Mapping for the Puget Sound Nearshore project has begun. Click here to go to the Campaign. For the first leg of the journey we are mapping from West Point at the Discovery Park Lighthouse to Admiral Point in West Seattle. This is about a 10 mile stretch and encompasses a stretch of undeveloped shoreline at Discovery Park to the highly developed areas of the Seattle Waterfront and Port of Seattle. 

Why Start at West Point?

West point marks the northern extent of Elliott Bay, the bay adjacent to downtown Seattle. This area is also historically significant. West Point Lighthouse is an active aid to navigation to this day after being constructed in 1881. Fifteen years later what is now Discovery Park which includes the shoreline to the north and south of the lighthouse became Fort Lawton.

As we make our way along the Nearshore of Puget Sound also known as the Salish Sea we must remain aware that we are visitors to this place that has been home to the Salish Tribes of this region since the last ice age. For example, West Point has not always been called “West Point” – this is a name that has only been used for the past ~175 years. The original name for this place is PKa’dz Eltue (phonically: pa-uq-dz-al-tsu) meaning “thrust far out.” For thousands of years prior the Duwamish, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations were active in this place; meeting, trading, sharing stories, gathering and preparing food (City ofSeattle).

The Developed Landscape

Since colonization the landscape of the Puget Sound Nearshore has changed dramatically and there is no better example of the extremity of these changes then the Seattle shoreline. As I paddle along the shore south of Discovery Park and into Elliott Bay Marina I encounter many harbor seals feeding. These marinas can become choke points for juvenile fish and salmon rearing along the nearshore. Because of the way some marinas are designed they can trap food sources for small fish, which in turn attracts bigger fish which brings in the harbor seals. It becomes its own little ecosystem, however this type of confinement is not part of a properly functioning Nearshore.

Perhaps no City in the United States underwent more landscape modifications during its development than the City of Seattle and those modifications are ever present in the Seattle Shorescape. When the City was being planned the shoreline area was a giant bluff, much like the bluffs of Discovery Park. In order to create a space for building a city center as well as a place for trading ships to dock these bluffs were graded. Known as the Denny Regrade this grading and leveling project removed millions of tons of soil which were then distributed throughout the nearshore area of Seattle. What is now the Seattle waterfront, the Stadium District south of downtown as well as Harbor Island which separates the Port of Seattle and Duwamish East and West Channels was all created by fill dirt from the re-grade. The area that was filled in was a giant estuary formed by the Green/Duwamish river. This estuary is now a tiny fraction of its original size and function. 

Big Wind

As I make my way along the Seattle Waterfront I observe the new Sea Wall that has been constructed with textured sections and concrete obtrusions meant to provide habitat for juvenile salmon. I wonder how effective they are. The wind picked up fiercely in the afternoon blowing me up the Ports East channel and putting an end to my first day of mapping. But what an adventure it was and how incredible it is to still see Harbor Seals and Great Blue Herons feeding among this industrial landscape. It gives me hope that there are solutions to recovering and conserving the Puget Sound. 

EarthViews Vision

EarthViews vision is to connect people to critically important aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. EarthViews works with NGO’s, Federal, State and Local resource managers to help achieve this mission. To accomplish EarthViews vision we developed technology to bring waterways to your desktop, mobile or VR device via easy-to-use, publicly available, 360 interactive virtual tours. These reality based maps have many uses for waterway conservationists and natural resource managers.

  • Digitally preserve the waterway, creating a historical baseline of conditions.
  • Visualize waterway data in context.
  • Collect Data
  • Locate points of interest.
  • Educate with virtual field trips.
  • Scope areas for recreation activities.
  • See it before you get there to enhance waterway emergency management and navigation.

Mapping the Elwha River after Dam Removal

On August 29th 2014 we made our way down the Elwha scraping the bottom of our raft and beating our oars against the gravel and cobble, barely submerged by the shallow low flowing water of a sleeping giant, the Elwha.

A little over three months later the flows in the river would peak at almost 10 times what we experienced during our arduous day of river mapping. A series of Pacific storms would sweep through the region giving the river the water it needs to remember the places it has run before. Natural river flows fluctuate according to the season, often with large spring flows corresponding to spring rains or snowmelt, and low summer flows corresponding to warm, dry summer weather.

Dams dramatically alter a river’s flow regime by blocking a river’s passage, storing water in artificial reservoirs. The Dams that blocked the Elwha river for 100 years are now completely gone. The dynamic nature of the Elwha has returned. The channel will be different in 2015. Insight into these differences can be gained by overlaying EarthViews data and imagery from one year to the next. How did the habitat change? Is there more or less wood? Is it in different locations? How did the sediment and shifting substrate alter the direction of the rivers main flow? Answering these questions using reality indexing from location based imagery will help establish a baseline and trend, recording the evolution of a rivers natural restoration process. Capturing this process is exactly what our mapping technology was designed to do.

*This blog is a re-post from the archives to celebrate the new EarthViews Blog.