City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 16th

Partial Success in Treating Starthistle

3:00 p.m. The field at lower Pleasant Valley (mile 1.2) where the Utah Conservation Corps and the city watershed officials have done Starthistle abatement (May 17th, May 21st, October 16th) has both succeeded and failed. The horizontal field at Pleasant Valley has filled in with new native grass, Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), many smaller wildflowers and also the invasive Western salisfy. The lower field is an idyllic scene, but because the field has been sprayed with Milestone herbicide (Aminopyralid), the Peregrine falcons are not hunting here for Rocky Mountain deer mice as in prior years.

The green of the lower field climbs up the hillside, and this is also an area where the Utah Conservation Corps manually pulled starthistle weeds. I cross the field to the slope to take a better look, and to my surprise, the treated vertical slopes have three or four times the density of starthistle plants as compared to the slope’s pre-treatment state last year. Other treated steep slopes to the west of Pleasant Valley are in a similar condition. Limited to steep slopes, the abatement project is a failure. Probably only a burning with reseeding can rehabilitate such slopes, but citizens in nearby residential areas rejected a burn control approach proposed in 2010 (see Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities 2010). Conversely, expensive manual pulling in conjunction with Aminopyralid spraying worked on horizontal fields (see Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative at May 21st).

I am also concerned that the use of Aminopyralid might be detrimental to the Peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks or Western screech-owls that utilize this field. Earlier this year, while with the Tracey Aviary bird count team (May 6th), I saw a Peregrine falcon hunting above this area, and in spring of 2015, a pair of peregrines would regularly sit on the power line wires above the field. One afternoon, one of the pair dived on the field, and then slowly rose beating its wings while grasping a fat deer mouse in its talons. The second falcon left its perch, swooped up from below of the first falcon and extended its talons. This startled the upper falcon and caused it to release its catch. The lower falcon, while flying inverted, expertly caught the mouse and flew off with its prize. Research later in this evening locates a 2007 United States Forest Service sponsored assessment of the effect of this herbicide on birds, principally by literature review (Durkin 2007). Since birds have a short-life span (Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks both live about twelve years), testing consists of applying a variety of doses of the chemical to test species. In the instant of Durkin’s review, a 2003 prior study force fed quail with a 50 percent lethal dose of Aminopyralid (id, pp. 96-97 and 4-1 to 4-6). The quail grew disoriented in the short term, but survived. In another study using high doses on hatchlings, success to viability declined up to 30 percent. Other lower dose studies did not find any significant effects. The consultant recommended exposure levels for humans, birds, and mammals based on prior works. Based on this limited study, my concern about using Aminopyralid around Peregrines and Cooper’s hawks were assuaged. Aminopyralid is not another DDT.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1852, he records a morning fog with singing birds, and he remarks on how evening mornings are now hot. In the night, he sees an aurora borealis to the north. On the morning of Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1853, he hears robins, birds, other birds, and crickets. He sees sunlight reflecting off a stream that makes the stream appear as silver metal (compare Dec. 26th, in main text, above). He extracts a red squirrel from its underground nest. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1854, he sees fleabane. The Utah version is Utah fleabane, Eigeron utahensis. He sees white lily and two variants of wild rose. He hears a cherry bird. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1855, he sees young squirrels. Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 16th, 1858, he smells blackberry blossoms, and on June 16th, 1860, he notes summer thunderstorms are now a common occurrence.

* * * *

On June 16th, 1997, the U.S. Forest Service revives the Anschutz Ranch East Pipeline Environmental Impact Analysis after a consultation disputes Chevron’s claim that an existing pipeline has sufficient capacity to handle all loads for the next fifty years (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16th, 1919, there was a large grass fire in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16th, 1915, bids were opened for the construction of the reservoir at Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1910, the Little Giant Mine petitioned the City council to open a mine in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 16, 1904, a bear destroyed a camp at the forks in City Creek Canyon, and Ben D. Luce and party hunted the bear (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 16, 1881, J.J. Branch, a former L.D.S. Church member who was present at Joseph Smith’s death, now turned evangelist, held a revival at a tent in Salt Lake City, at which he predicted that God would send a great flood from City Creek Canyon and destroy the City in retribution in retribution for the “wickedness and lying and blasphemy and abomination” of the L.D.S. church (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 16, 1897, George Crimson, a still living 1847 pioneer, relates his biography (Salt Lake Herald). In the spring of 1848, Crimson and his father built the first grist mill in City Creek Canyon, and sold the same to Brigham Young (id). He left for the California gold rush in 1849.

June 1, 2017

June 1st

Genetics of Angiosperm Leaf Out Times

6:30 p.m. This is the first day of summer as defined by convention in the 1800s and as used by Thoreau. Modern astronomical summer begins on June 20th, and ecological summer, the estival or hottest season of the year, begins on June 15th. A summer-like storm approaches, the sky is overcast, but the warm temperatures only threaten, but do not bring, rain. The stream is lower today. The SNOTEL station at Lookout Peak records that only about 10 inches of snow containing 5.8 inches of water remain in the high elevation snowpack. Since May 1st, the snowpack at the peak has declined from 82 inches of snow containing 36 inches of water equivalent. Per SNOTEL records on average, it will take another 8 days before the remaining balance will be gone, but my feeling is the snowpack melt will be complete in half that time. Then life in the canyon will have to rely on water stored deep underground below the Salt Lake salient.

As I leave Guardhouse Gate, grey clouds have turned to low dark clouds, horizontal lightening jumps between black clumps, and a light rain begins to fall. Birds are silent with few exceptions. Below picnic site 1, a lone Plumbeous vireo sings, and a Song sparrow calls at mile 0.4. At milepost 1.0, a lone robin tweets. Lightening increases, strong winds blow, trees wave, and the rain turns heavy. The stream swells in response. It is wet, soggy, and shirtless, but refreshing, jog back down canyon. Bicyclists stream down canyon squealing with glee. A single Chirping sparrow complains from a rain soaked River birch. As I reach the Gate again, the storm is clearing, high grey clouds return, and a Warbling vireo again sings.

Tracey Aviary’s Bryant Olsen and his team returned to the canyon May 25th. In addition to the current cast of avaian characters (May 20th), they see two new birds: the Northern rough-winged swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) and the Western wood-peewee (Contopus sordidulus). The diet of both consists of almost entirely of insects, and their arrival is consistent with rising temperatures and flying insects increasing numbers. Mountain chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Black-capped chickadees, who dominated winter birds and who survive the winter on conifer seeds, are now rarely heard.

Today, the United States executive branch announced action to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, on the grounds that American manufacturing and energy production must be unshackled from excessive regulation so the nation can compete with China and India. Implications are discussed below.

* * * *

The Blake edition of Thoreau’s “Journals” resume on June 1st, and continue with respect to his Concord observations through July 10th. Per the convention of his time, Thoreau declares summer to begin informally on June 1st (“Journal” on June 1st, 1853). In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 1st, 1852, he notes sounds during a full Moon night including night-hawk, crickets, peet-weets, and a whippoorwill. He notes that the river waters are at their summer low level. On June 1st, 1853, he notes that the season has changed. Blooming is over and a period of rapid growth begins. Bees are swarming. Most trees are covered in leaves and berries are forming, and plants are quickly growing. White oaks have red tinge on the sun-exposed side. He examines a gall on a tree. Conversely, he notes that lupines are in full bloom, and sees snapdragons, geraniums, and lambkill. Birds are at low numbers. He examines a night-hawk nest and its eggs, and the parent night-hawk strafes his head to drive him from the nest. On June 1st 1854, he notes that within two weeks, a forest leaf canopy has developed and the forest floor is covered with new shoots. The new shoots are being eaten by numerous worms and insects. On June 1st, 1857, he examines a redwing nest and he hears a bobolink.

* * * *

Spring leaf out is governed by genetics but fall leaf loss is governed by environmental factors. Panchen and colleagues recorded the leaf out times of approximately 1,600 woody plants at eight temperate arboretums spread around the globe (Panchen et al 2014), and after controlling for latitude, they organized the average leaf out dates into phenological clade diagram (id, Table 5 and Fig. 6). Members of the Rosaceae family began leaf out on average on the 87th day of the year (s.d. 7.72 days), and this includes Woods rose, serviceberry and chokeberry in the canyon. Members of the Fagaceae family, which includes Gambel’s oaks, leafed out on average on day 109 (s.d. 1.93 days). Other relationships by tree family emerged. Angiosperms leafed out on average 19 days before gymnosperm trees. Shrubs leafed out 10 days before trees. Panchen’s team also investigated the leaf-loss, called leaf senescence or abscission at four of the eight temperature arboretums (Panchen et al 2015). Unlike spring leaf-out, autumn leaf-loss is much more variable and cannot be not organized by tree families (id, 871).

This is seen in the canyon’s Gambel’s oaks. Within broad elevation based, Gambel’s oaks turn at once. Conversely, within bands, the effect of lower temperatures at altitude are apparent. The oaks at Guardhouse Gate are fully leafed out, but broad swaths of oaks on the high slopes at mile 5.0 have not yet begun to bud.

* * * *

Today, the United States executive branch announced action to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, on the grounds that American manufacturing and energy production must be unshackled from excessive regulation so the nation can compete with China and India. Long-term national polling indicates that the country is not behind the executive branch as more than 50 percent of citizens in each of the 50 United States are in favor of the Agreement (Leiserowitz et al 2017), and prior to the announcement, local cities and governments issued press releases indicating that they would further the Agreement notwithstanding the federal position. I am having a disconnect while watching a broadcast of the announcement, which occurs under a clear, blue skies and beautiful spring day on the White House lawn. The World AQI monitor page shows an AQI index near Washington, D.C. of 36, but over much of China and India the AQI scales are between 150 and 400. Delhi, India has monitors reading 621 and two at the meters reach the maximum of 999. Huangshan, China, near Shanghai, that nation’s largest industrial center, reads 291. As I noted back on February 8th, one consequence of the decision in the 1980s to de-industrialize the United States through globalization in the 1980s was the transporting of pollution to other countries, and Americans have grown accustom to relatively clean air. The source of my disconnect with the President’s broadcast is that it does not acknowledge the trade-off. Bringing back heavy industry under current technology will return United States’ air quality now seen in India and China. The broadcast would have been visually more honest if it had been done against the backdrop of a Beijing bad air day. Conversely, United States de-industrialization did offshore jobs, reduced the middle class, and increased income inequality. That is not a politically stable path for the nation. But these social and economic trends also represent an opportunity, different from that of the current federal executive branch, to correct the missed vision and path at the end of Jimmy Carter’s 1979 administration. Then the vision for America’s future was energy independence and transition to a service economy with clean industries. Omitted from that vision (and later abandoned by the Reagan administration) was the development of clean manufacturing technology for basic necessities. Globalization simply moved pollution intensive manufacturing to with countries with lower pollution standards, and economists claimed, ignoring non-economic impacts, that this was more efficient, but including non-economic impacts it is not. Investment and research in clean manufacturing is the way forward; it is necessary; but it will be more expensive for the American consumer than simply exporting pollution or than the United States racing to the bottom to match India’s and China’s low pollution standards.

For the birds in the canyon, this executive action weighs in favor of further declines in continental bird populations based on Soykan and colleagues’ 2016 study (May 28th; Soykan et al. 2016). But for the canyon, this may mean increases in western bird populations as species continue to migrate north and to retrench around the best watered habitats, e.g. – City Creek Canyon. The executive branch is out of step with the rest of America and is representing a vocal minority. It remains to be seen how the matter will play out in the future.

* * * *

On June 1st, 1921, Mayor C. Clearance Nelsen and city officers inspected the City Creek watershed and reported more snow and lake water than average (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 1st, 1920, Dr. Will Ellerbeck urged the creation of a highway through City Creek Canyon to connect Salt Lake and Morgan counties (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 1st, 1919, the Salt Lake Tribune promotes a new automobile using City Creek as the backdrop. On June 1, 1904, two young men became lost in City Creek and Emigration Canyons while horseriding (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 1st 1903, fifty prisoners were assigned to work on the City Creek Road over the summer (Salt Lake Telegram).

March 15, 2017

March 15th

Filed under: Ants, People, picnic site 4, Pollution, Smells, spiders, Stream, Water Skimmer — canopus56 @ 7:47 pm

A Day for the Senses

2:00 p.m. Record high temperature – 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and twenty degrees above average. Warm sun beats down. Insects continue to respond to these record highs. Box Elder bugs pass their R reproduction explosion yesterday and are diminished, but now the spiders respond. I stop counting at fifty small spiders scurrying across the road. They are oblivious to the larger world around them, and in places, I have to jump from side to side to avoid crushing them. Ants become active and run onto the round. At the pond at picnic site 4, three Water striders, the first of the new year, return. Butterflies sparsely float along the road. As yesterday, the warmth brings out numerous people and on another workday, many families with strollers are out. The stream still runs high with the early snowpack melt, and at rock pours, City Creek begins to look like its high mountain relatives. The water cascades over rocks and falls into agitated white pools. The stream is usually brown colored from the milky dust in the runoff that is only slightly opaque, but the water is set off against the brown of the creek bottom. This contrasts with the water of the boiling white, agitating eddies that creek into blue-green wedges. The silver ribbon returns for some stream sections (Dec. 26th).

At picnic site 4, I stop to do a chore. There is plastic child’s bucket that has been tangled in the low-hanging bushes on the far bank of the stream. I have grown tired of this piece of trash, and today, I have brought my river sandals. I change shoes and then wade across the two foot deep pond to remove the trash. The runoff is only slightly cold and afterward I am refreshed. As I wade across, a great plume of silt is raised, and the pond turns light brown for about five minutes. I now understand Salt Lake’s 1894 Mayor Baskin’s February 6th, 1895 comment that the City’s “inhabitants have been compelled to drink and use for culinary purposes very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water,” and why the City prohibited fishing in the stream beginning in 1895 (Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 1895). Although the stream bed is made of rocks, the rocks are not natural. In 1896, this section of stream was lined with rip-rapp in order to reduce both sediment and to keep stream water from seeping into the true silt base hidden below the rocks (Salt Lake Herald, May 20 and July 26, 1896). Over the last one-hundred and ten years, the rip-rap has been covered with silt.

At milepost 1.5, a fresh katabatic wind blows up canyon, and between wind, the warm sun, and relaxing wade in the cool mountain stream, I mind cannot help to wander and just enjoy this feast for the senses.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 15th, 1857, he observes trout swimming in a zig-zag pattern. On March 15th, 1860, he admires a circling hen-hawk.

March 2, 2017

March 2nd

Trash

2:00 p.m. Temperatures rise into the fifties. The snow and rain of the last few days has lost its hold on the city and in the canyon. A few inches of lingering snow covers the shaded canyon bottoms, but warm pre-spring sunlight dominates the air. At mile 1.1., the road is covered with mule deer scat. As the road warms during the day, deer herds like to congregate on the road at night in order to take advantage of the road’s radiant heat. Insects now respond more vigorously to spring’s new attempt to return. The Black-capped chickadee flock now centers on picnic site six, and a few Black-billed magpies venture higher up canyon. Between Guardhouse Gate and mile 1.1, I count fifty-one small stoneflies, whereas on previous warm days, only one or two could be found. The warmth draws the University’s bicycling team outside, and in close colorful group, they speed by up canyon.

Small trash is pervasive along the lower canyon road. Each day while jogging along the first two miles, I stoop to pick up three or four pieces of discarded paper, energy drink pack tops, hair bands, cigarette butts, sanitary wipes, bottle caps, plastic bottles, gloves, hats, ear rings, and similar ephemera of modern life. I am not a saint. I do this to selfishly preserve the natural aesthetic of my daily excursion, and also as exercise. I have become older and bending over and picking up items is a way to maintain flexibility. I estimate that over three years that I have picked up three or four 40 gallon bags of trash. I am far from the first to do this; keeping the canyon clean is a community effort. In 1997, Tony Cannon, a descendant of Mormon pioneers who logged 22,715 miles running in City Creek, was known for always leaving the canyon with armloads of trash (Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 1997, May 12, 1998). Things have improved. Since the lower canyon is kept clean on a daily basis, the volume of discarded trash has declined noticeably. If occasional users find a more pristine canyon, they seem to be less inclined to deface it. One can only imagine what layers of plastic have been incorporated into the soil and thus the future geologic layers on either side of the road.

The current geologic epoch is called the Holocene, and it began about 11,000 years ago. Some researchers have proposed that a new geologic epoch be declared: the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is informally defined as epoch in which human impact on the environment, in terms of species extinction, modification of the chemistry of the biosphere, and pollution, has become so pronounced that its effects will be seen in stratigraphic layers by future geologists (Waters et al). In August 2016, the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Union of Geological Sciences recommended to the full congress that it officially adopt this epoch name (Carrington), but the congress has yet to vote on the matter.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 2nd, 1855, he notes that when viewed from a distance, young shoots at the tops of maple trees are red tinged. Compare Dec. 11th here. On March 2nd, 1856, he observes that birches have dropped their seeds in a high density. On March 2, 1858, he sees a large flock of buntings. On March 2, 1859 during a winter of heavy snow, he describes the bluebird’s song as the first premature harbinger of spring. On March 2, 1860, he notes the ground is without snow.

On March 2nd, 1910, with a crew of 150, Moran Construction began installation of a 5 foot conduit to carry City Creek underground through the business district (Salt Lake Tribune).

February 27, 2017

February 27th

Filed under: Pollution, Weather — canopus56 @ 9:15 pm

Thin Air

5:00 p.m. Another day of snow whitens the canyon.

Jogging in the canyon is an antidote to depression. It infuses oxygen into and restores the brain, calms the body, and returns perspective. For some time based on popular science reporting, I had thought that the lower atmospheric pressure contributed to mild hypoxia that might induce feeling blue. Atmosphere decreases in density as elevation increases. A standard barometric equation indicates that Salt Lake City and the canyon should have 86% of the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level, or about 26 inches of mercury as opposed to 29.92 inches of mercury at sea level, and this is consistent with reported weather data (NOAA).

After leaving the canyon today, I look for the articles underlying the mild hypoxia hypothesis. In 2011, Kim at the University of Utah and colleagues statistically associated increasing altitude with the risk of suicide by examining suicides in 20 counties at altitudes between sea level and 11,500 feet (Kim). Salt Lake City is at approximately 4,300 feet in elevation. Relying on that the coefficient of correlation between altitude and suicide was positive, they concluded that less air was a significant risk factor for suicide. However, the coefficient of correlation was only 0.51, little better than chance; but, the standards of proving epidemiological causation is not the same as in mathematics. In 2015, Kaneka at the University of Utah and colleagues in a controlled experiment demonstrated a physical causal connection between low air pressure and depression by raising rats in hypobaric chambers (Kaneka). But, depression was only seen in female and not male rats, and this indicates the need for more research.

Air pollution, including particulate matter, is also believed to cause depression. In 2015, Bakian at colleagues at the University of Utah compared Salt Lake Valley suicide data for 2000-2011, stratified by polluted and non-polluted season (Bakian). They found that the relative risk of suicide two days after heavy spring inversions of PM2.5 was 1.20 as compared to other seasons. The relative risk of suicide three days after spring and fall inversions with high levels of gaseous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was 1.35. Although not measuring mood, in 2012, Beard and colleagues at the University of Utah found that winter time inversions with high PM2.5 levels were associated with higher levels of emergency room visits for asthma (Beard).

By jogging in the canyon, my breathing takes in more harmful pollutants, but at a reduced level than I would receive by jogging in the valley. But the adverse effects of those pollutants are offset by the health benefits of taking in more oxygen.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 27th, 1853, he notes how easily squirrels can open cones, while people cannot. He opens a pine cone by storing it in a drawer.

On February 27th, 1894, an employee of the Waterworks Department reported seeing a mountain lion in City Creek Canyon. City Councilperson Newell noted other mountain lions had been seen, and he suggested that the City authorize a hunting party to go into the canyon and “kill off the man eaters” (Deseret Evening News).

February 26, 2017

February 26th

Filed under: Pollution — canopus56 @ 9:40 pm

Escaping Bad Air

8:00 p.m. Just a short half-mile jog today in a twilight canyon. The enveloping dark and solitude are welcome. They allow me to concentrate on the physicality of running, on form, and on sensation of rhythm.

The air is clear today, and the valley and canyon have passed the worst of the winter air pollution inversion days. On previous days I have noted escaping to the canyon and away from the inversion air pollution layer that covers the lower city (Jan. 5th, Jan. 8th, Feb. 1st, Feb. 15th). That there is less pollution at higher elevations is evident by the visual difference of the atmosphere between the city and the canyon beyond mile 1.0, but scientific studies also support my impression.

In 2010, Silcox at the University of Utah and colleagues installed a series of air quality monitors along a transect line from the William Browning Building at the University of Utah to a ridgeline between City Creek Canyon and the Avenues. The highest monitor was at highest point of the ridgeline visible to the southwest from milepost 1.5 in the canyon. Silcox et al monitored PM2.5 particulate matter during January and February inversions, and they found during the heaviest inversion pollution events there was about a 50 percent reduction in PM2.5 levels between the elevation of the Salt Lake City Airport near 4265 feet above sea level (1300 meters) and the highest station on the ridgeline near 5900 feet in elevation (1800 meters). Since 2010, other vertical pollution gradient monitoring efforts began. The first by the John Sohl’s HARBOR group from Weber State University involves releasing weather balloons to an altitude of 500 feet above the surface at the Salt Lake City International Airport (Mountain Meteorology Group, 2017a) and the second by Lareau and colleagues at the University of Utah involves laser measurement of the density of the air (Lareau et al; Mountain Meteorology Group, 2017b). In January and February, 2017, the Division is undertaking a vertical pollution study using and airplane to fly through the inversion layer to collect physical samples (Utah DEQ, 2017). On a daily, real-time basis, the most useable source for a vertical air PM2.5 concentration is a network of less accurate citizen-science air monitoring stations, Purple Air. That network typically shows a gradient of reduced PM2.5 pollution from the valley to stations on the high Ensign Peak and Avenues benches and for one station in Emigration Canyon (Purple Air) (Personal observation).

All of these sources indicate that by jogging in the canyon, I am reducing my breathe intake of particulate matter pollution as compared to the valley, but perhaps by not so much as I estimate subjectively by just looking at the air.

February 25th

Filed under: Pollution — canopus56 @ 9:38 pm

Heightened Senses

5:00 p.m. Despite the low temperature, about ten strolling couples and runners traverse the lower canyon. The brisk air is refreshing and clears the mind. Modern life is a continual bombardment and over stimulation of the senses. Car noise, traffic, noxious smells, trash, and the continual distraction of advertisements and information dulls both the mind and the senses. My body has learned over the years to automatically dull the mind and to reduce the sensitively of the senses. My jogs and walks in the canyon reverses those effects, and during these walks senses reawaken. In the City, the smell of people, except for the most offensive body odors or the over perfumed, is not noticed. As my sense of smell heightens this evening, I can smell each individual person as they pass. This gives me a glimpse into how blind persons experience the world.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 25th, 1859, he hears a nuthatch and see the tracks of skunks.

On February 25th, 1910, resident A. M. Pendleton recommended the planting of a cultivar, the English walnut, in City Creek Canyon and throughout the rest of the city (Salt Lake Tribune). This would have created an English style managed landscape “forest” in the canyon as currently appears at Liberty Park in the city.

February 15, 2017

February 15th

Filed under: Black-billed magpie, Geology, Pollution — canopus56 @ 7:05 pm

Pleistocene Dream

External Link to Image

Source: Photograph of Utah Museum of Natural History Panorama by Frank De Courten. Reproduced in: Hintze, Geologic History of Utah, p. 188.

3:00 p.m.

Today, I hike not in the canyon, but to Ensign Peak, which is on the ridge between City Creek Canyon and Warms Springs on the valley floor. It overlooks the lower City Creek gorge and the grounds of the Utah State Capitol building. I am there to see how the Gambel’s oak forest on one flank of the peak recovered from a wildfire last summer (August 6th). The burned oak covers only about 100 by 100 feet and is disproportionate to the amount of smoke that I saw seen last autumn. The fire’s effect was to clean out accumulated leaf litter and brush under the oaks, thus opening the floor beneath the five foot tall scrub oaks to sunlight. Although their bases are blackened by the fire, the trees appear unharmed. Along the trail to the peak, there are the constant call of Black-billed magpies. The small valleys between Ensign Peak and the City Creek ridgeline is a refugee and breeding area for the magpies. They are not hunted here, and one allows me walk within twenty-five feet (rock throwing range), before it flies off. Reaching the peak about five-hundred feet above the valley floor, the inversion layer is well-developed and distinct. On the peak, my elevation is equal to the top of the smog bank. Later, via the internet, I look at photographs of the major cities of the world: New York City, Brasilia, London, Berlin, Moscow, Islamabad, New Dehli, Bejing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc. All are covered in thick layers of automobile pollution and seventy-four percent of the population of developed countries live in such cities. We are in the the Anthropocene, an informally defined but not officially recognized geologic epoch, in which humans have modified the planetary environment. Sometimes I dream what City Creek Canyon would have looked like 12,000 years ago before the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the start of the current Holocene Era, when the first humans arrived.

I imagine that ancient humans looked down into the valley from this ancient peak and that they looked down into upper City Creek from shallow caves in the canyon’s walls near mile 1.0. The old Utah Museum of Natural History on President’s Circle of the University of Utah used to have a panorama of the imagined view from Capitol Hill looking northward during the Pleistocene (De Courten in Hintze at 188). The panorama is clearly shows Mt. Olympus, Big Cottonwood Twin Peaks and Lone Peak in the background, and the foreground is the current upper Avenues at the 11th Avenue Provo Shoreline. Some elements in the panorama are familiar extinct animals, e.g. the Wooly Mammoth and the Saber-toothed tiger. Other elements are familiar sights today: the coyote, the hawk, the Sage grouse, and the Sego lily. Missing from the panorama is lower City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive. That part of the canyon would not be carved out until the level of ancient Lake Bonneville precipitously dropped from its Provo Level Shoreline at 11th Avenue to its current elevation between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago. Also missing from the museum’s Pleistocene panorama are humans. Prior to 2016, the earliest evidence of human habitation in northern Utah was 9,000 years ago at Danger Cave, Tooele County, Utah (Jennings). The cave overlooked ancient shorelines of Lake Bonneville. Therefore, the omission of humans from the museum’s panorama was reasonable at the time of its painting. Twelve thousand years ago, the Clovis culture had arrived in North America and its marker, Clovis arrowhead points, have been found to the north of Salt Lake City in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, to the south in New Mexico, and to the west in Texas, but there were no Clovis culture sites in Utah. In 2005, Utah’s first Clovis Point was found outside of Kanab, Utah (Havnes), and in July 2016, a Clovis culture fishing camp was found in Tooele County (Shaw). If the old panorama is repainted at the new museum, humans reasonably can be added in. Perhaps my Pleistocene dream did actually occur.

February 8, 2017

February 8th

Filed under: Pollution, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:56 pm

Distant Pollution Causes

External Link to Image

Source: World Air Quality Index Team. World Air Quality Index.

5:30 p.m. Last night was clear, today was again wonderfully sunny, and temperatures reached nearly sixty degrees. But by the end of the day, the skies are again overcast with a slight rain. Salt Lake typically is overcast for 17 days in January, and in 2017, it feels like all of those days were concentrated at the end of the month. I realize that from several weeks of January overcast skies that I have lost my connection with the solar and lunar cycles. The January melt snow-ice layer by the side of the road continues to melt and this evening has been reduced to one-third of its original volume.

Following the cross-quarter day (Feb. 3rd), the days of heavy air pollution from inversions are declining, and today is the fourth straight day of clear air. According to a distribution chart of heavy winter air pollution days from 1999-2011 prepared by the Department of Meteorology at the University of Utah, the heavy winter inversion season in the valley occurs during the eight weeks before and after January 1st of each year (University of Utah, 2017). During this season, air pollution creeps into the higher canyon from the valley below.

Pollution levels in the canyon and the Wasatch Front inversion layer are also related to distant events in time and in location. The root cause of heavy air pollution is local, that is the propensity of city and county residents’ to prefer low-density housing, the resulting suburban sprawl, and the high personal automobile driving requirements associated with that development pattern. But the level of air pollution rising in the canyon is also related to global air pollution and economic events. After jogging through clean air today, I am looking at the World Air Quality Index, an internet application developed by a programming team principally based in Beijing that displays air quality indicators readings from around the globe, and I am immediately struck by the pattern of green, indicating a low AQI and good air, and yellow, red and purple, indicating a high AQI and bad air. The United States and the canyon are almost entirely green, while China is almost entirely red and purple and the European Union is almost entirely yellow and red.

This pattern, which indicates that air pollution in my local canyon could be far worse than currently occurs, is the result of intentional human decisions. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter’s environmental vision for the future was one in which the United States would transition to non-air polluting energy sources, including solar and nuclear energy. At that time the idea of zero-pollution design and manufacturing also arose. The theory at the time was that the United States would develop these clean technologies first and then maintain its global economic dominance by reselling them to developing countries. These visions have only partially come about. United States manufacturing value as a percentage of GDP has remained constant by industry concentrating on high value products made from materials imported from overseas. But the United States de-industrialized from manufacturing common consumer products that create higher pollution levels during fabrication by a combination of environmental policies that increase costs and by pursuing free market trade policies and globalization. Also in pursuit of free market policies, the United States changed its education finance model by dramatically reducing investment in public education and moving financing of education to the private sector. As a result, the percentage of United States born engineers and scientists at the graduate and undergraduate levels dramatically declined simply because education was no longer affordable. Those were the people who were needed to develop non-polluting manufacturing. In these respects, the environmental visions of the 1970s vision were only partially implemented. In the United States while alternative energy developed, zero pollution manufacturing did not come to fruition. China, in particular, decided in the mid-1970s to pursue an economic strategy of becoming a global manufacturing concern, and the United States investment and financial sector responded, based on New Chicago School of Economics free market ideologies, by forcing United States manufacturers to relocate overseas. Although globalization did bring lower priced consumer products to the United States, globalization only “works” in that narrow economic price sense because it is not difficult for manufacturers to achieve lower prices by moving processes to countries like China and Southeast Asia. Globalization only works because it does not include non-economic environmental costs, such as those shown in the World Air Quality Index map. China and southest Asian countries have no or few environmental controls, dump toxic wastes directly into un-contained landfills and waterways, and imprison laborers who strike for higher wages or better working conditions. Although in the United States environmental design of buildings (e.g. LEAD certification) and reduced input manufacturing has progressed, development of true zero pollution manufacturing remains constrained by low globalization prices based principally on transferring unmeasured manufacturing pollution costs to citizens of other nations.

I enjoy the good air of the canyon, I am appreciative that the environmental movement of the 1970s brought about changes that preserves my health, but I do so with a sense of practicality. It is unethical for Americans to enjoy an environment with relatively clean air by simply exporting pollution from manufacturing consumer goods to other countries, and the challenge for this and the next generation will be to complete the 1970’s engineering vision for reduced pollution manufacturing. Then manufacturing of general consumer goods can and should be brought back to the United States, although at higher prices.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 8th, 1860, he records a +43 degree temperature; on February 8th, 1861, a -22 degree temperature.

On February 8th, 1900, one-hundred head of emaciated horses were discovered having been left to graze in the City Creek Canyon over the winter (Salt Lake Tribune).

January 20, 2017

January 19th

Filed under: Pollution, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:21 am

Cloud Fog

5:00 p.m. A storm front with a low cloud layer has moved in, and it has rained on and off for most of the day. This has also cleared out the inversion layer, but the air, although it smells crisp and moist, is still bad in the city. A network of real-time particle pollution sensors surround the City, and I can view their results on my telephone. Sensors on the city’s plain read an unhealthy count of particulates of less than 2.5 um in diameter in each cubic meter of air. Three of the many sensors in the network are positioned high on or above the Provo Level terrace of Lake Bonneville at 4,700 feet in elevation, and those three sensor in contrast average a healthy PM 2.5 count of about 20 particles. Although there are no sensors in the canyon, the distribution of their healthy particulate readings indicate clean air can be breathed there. It is time to go and jog in the canyon.

As I drive to and start jogging up the canyon, I am enclosed in one of the low-lying cloud banks. The scene feels like one of Stigliz’s silvery photographs of New York buildings at night in the fog. The lightest falling of wet snow precipitates out of the cloud as I run through it; I am watching snow form. This covers the road below mile 0.5 in slick, slippery surface. To run up the road’s incline, I most plant each foot flat in order to obtain enough traction. Pushing off from the toes and balls of my feet results in slips and near-falls. But the air has a wonderful taste to it and it is not overly cold. I can feel my lungs clear as I reach milepost 1.5 and turn around for a subtle down canyon view. A thick low cloud layer blocks the lower entrance to the canyon, and flat bottoms of another cloud layer just scrapes the ridgeline five hundred feet above. A string of small fog banks stretches tentatively up the canyon to the entrance to Pleasant Valley.

Unlike Thoreau one-hundred and fifty years ago, I have access to a myriad of technological resources that change my relationship to the city, nature, and the canyon. Thoreau had access to a good university and a library a short train ride away at Harvard. I have in real time, undreamed access to satellite weather images, air quality networks, global positioning satellites, world-spanning journal research indices and publications, and like Thoreau, access to a good university library. But understanding and knowledge today, as in Thoreau’s time, depends on interest, perception by an open mind, and effort. I am continually surprised at the depth of research being done by professionals and academicians on even the smallest natural curiosity that I find in the canyon. But this is not an age of the end of knowledge. More often than not, researchers begin their papers about what would seem to be the most common of questions with the statement “little is known about …” Such statements are part of the art of scientific writing since publication focuses results that extend new knowledge, but it is more than just draftsmanship. The depth of things not known or that we assume to be resolved is immense. Such reading has made me more cautious about checking my own assumptions about the world before deciding or acting on a matter. Like most people, I make quick assessments and judgments about issues of daily life, but I see them only as provisional ideas. Then I ask, “What have others done on this question, and is there an opportunity for a fresh view or thought?”

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 19th 1856, he describes overcast skies in which there are parallel bands of clouds. These are probably gravity wave induced cloud bands.

On January 19th, 1905, City Land and Water Commissioner Ben D. Luce reported that City Creek was regularly patrolled to prevent livestock from grazing in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). He recommended that the canyon road be improved and that a park be established at its mouth (id). On January 19, 1898, Mayor Clark reported to the City Council that he concurred in the Water Commissioner’s recommendation to replace the City Creek “high line” redistribution tanks on the grounds that they were “in such a deplorable condition as to render it likely at any moment that a large area of the city should be cut off from a supply of water by the collapse of these rotten structures” (Salt Lake Herald). On January 19th, 1887, the City Watermaster reported on a plan for allocation of water from the new constructed Dry Bench water mains (Salt Lake Democrat). On January 19th, 1875, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the account of a member of a rescue party sent to check on the welfare of two miners at the Red Bird Mine on Scott’s Hill (probably the Unamed peak at 8283 feet to the north west of Lower Rotary Park). The rescuer reported that “game of all kinds is abundant. We saw twelve blacktail deer in one band for a starter, ducks in great abundance, many snipes, a brace of California quail, to say nothing of prairie chickens, grouse and white hare. The stream is also a favorite resort for brook trout” (id). The reporter also listed many feature names, most of which are not in use today, including Maiden’s Rock, Whisky Springs, Dead Man’s Point, The Narrows, Pleasant Valley, Jackass Cut Off, Rattlesnake Point, Chimney Rock, Blooly Cabin, Lime Burner’s Retreat, Camp Enoch, Porcupine Gap, Tan-Bark Hollow, Hermit’s Camp, Priesthood’s Tree, and Modoc City (id). Modoc City was a proposed and platted city at the current site of Upper Rotary Park. The “city” consisted of a cabin that served as a post-office.

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