April 19, 2012

The Variation of Land in California

Our great state of California is an amazingly varied place, with a possibility of being one of the most ecologically diverse states in the union. From the Klamath mountains to the Mojave Desert and everything in between, there is nowhere else in the state so varied within a boundary of ten degrees latitudenally and ten degrees longitudinally.

A recent image has been floating around the internet recently, depicting the State of California prior to its statehood. A massive lake now gone once was the southern end of the San Joaquin River. There would have been no difficulty in taking a steamboat from Redding all the way down the Sacramento to San Francisco or even Bakersfield! Imagine, hot, dry acrid Bakersfield sandwiched in between the Carrizo Plain, Techapi Mountains, Piute mountains and the Reenhorn mountains. Currently, it's a fairly decent sized city, pockmarked with tracts and oil farms. Imagine around here, one of the largest lakes in the continental US proper. (considering Lake Superior is split between the US and Canada. Drained away to feed agriculture. As sad as the loss of such a huge lake, the use of its waters for agricultural purposes the transformation allowed the central valley of this state to be used for growing vegetables and other food stuffs that now support the state. The concern of soil salination and wildlife is a major concern in contrast. But the last thing the state needs again is another Salton Sea.

When Leland Stanford arrived for his innauguration as Governor of the state, he was paddled up in a boat to the state capitol. Imagine, a city like Sacramento with Interstate five passing through it, massive tract home plots, city streets and the like, being swampy marshlands. The interruption of Nature by man is always ever present with diverting the existence of natural formation for human benefit. Back to the example of Tulare lake, the reason it disappeared was the damming of the headwaters of the Kern, Kaweah, Tule and Kings rivers. By establishing a system of dams to control flooding and allow portioning for potable water, agriculture and industry, the government in effect killed a major ecological beauty for the use of its people.

We should laud great pioneers for their ingenuity, to work the land such that people are capable of living off the land, even if that land was dry and practically unusable before. Brigham Young's arrival at the Great Salt Lake sparked a systematic irrigation of the land allowing the Mormons safe haven from persecution in 1848. Today, the city of Salt Lake City is a major flourishing metropolitan area.

We also cannot forget those who have moved tirelessly to preserve the same beauty of the land that we know today. The work of John Muir and convincing then president Theodore Roosevelt allowed for the the formation of the foundations for what would become the national parks system and the department of the Interior. Muir wrote of the mountains and the redwoods of the state of California, the beauty of the Yosemite valley and even wrote of other natural wonders of the state. His tireless efforts would preserve the forests and natural wonders for years to come.

Along the fault running from the Santa Ana mountains, across the San Gabriel and up through the Salinas valley and into the San Francisco penninsula, here the shape of the earth is caused by multiple faults running into one another. At fault for our conception of how plates and mountains work are: it seems that all mountains are formed by plates colliding and both being pushed up. That seems to be the basic concept we all embrace at least. Here along the San Andreas fault are various types of fault lines. Subduction plates, collisional plates, slip faults, etc. From this, we find the true forms of why the state's landmasses and mountains shape the way they do as we recgonize them.

A Brief Introduction to Subduction:

So what do we know about subduction? Perhaps, a few of you reading this may know, others might have looked it up on Wikipedia. In a sense, the entire earth is a constantly, rebuilding construction site. The core of this planet where the pressure and such is extremely high causes an extreme and intense heat. We know from basic physics and science that warm things tend to rise and cool things sink. So we have Magma being superpressurized and then it moves upwards. As it rises towards the surface towards the Lithospehere, it cool and creates variations in that part of the earth. Places where the lithosphere is thinner, will get pulled down, creating basins. Places where there is more variation and thickness, it tends to create land mass elevations. But back to the issue of Magma. When it is rebuilding, it creates the forms we know.

So at plate collisions whichever plate is cooler, that one will be pulled downwards and the hotter and lighter plate will rise, and actually float over. Where the lower one subducts under the other plate. With subduction, there are variations of the plate where you have the many types of fault interactions. Slip faults, strike faults, subducting faults, slip strike, etc. An excellent example of slip strike fault exists in Hollister, CA. There is one landmark that is known to many locals, and especially by geologists: a wire rail fence that stretches along a section of fault line that since its building in 1930, the fence has been stretch and pushed around showing the seismic activity exhibited since.

Back to California:

So what is it about this state that makes it an amazingly varied landscape. Every possible form of climate in the world exists here. The highest point in the contential United States, as well as the lowest dry land in North America both exist here in California, within a hundred miles of each other! From the head of the Klamath, following along the Cascades into Oregon, Washington state and ending somewhere in British Columbia. This range is marked by multiple mountains: Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Jefferson, Craters, Three Sisters, Thielsen, Crater Lake formation and Mt. Shasta. This protective covering and the shape of the lands prevents low hanging clounds from passing over this ridge, causing a temperate rain forest. Many of these head waters form along these ridgelines, causing the lush forests to have no trouble growing here.

From extreme climates also derives extreme life forms, the state also boasts some of the largest trees, tallest trees and oldest singular, non-recursive tree. The title of largest and oldest goes to a colony of Quaking Aspen in Utah. So how does the state of California get so lucky? Its hard to say, but with proper climates, good fertile soil and the ideal conditions to allow these extrmes to grow.

In conclusion, we can look into the shape of things to come. If the way things continue, the shape of California will continue to change for all eternity.

No comments: