Nearly three weeks after the Oso landslide, scientists are still studying what caused a massive hillside to break away, travel over the Stillaguamish River and spread out over a mile – all in just 60 seconds.
A team from the U.S. Geological Survey is leading the effort to understand what happened. Richard Iverson, a hydrologist at the USGS’s office in Vancouver and one of the world’s leading landslide experts, told the Seattle Times that the slide was caused by “a combination of unusually wet weather, erosion at the toe of the slide and local geology.”
According to the Times, Iverson believes the sandy soil collapsed and “probably compressed the sodden soil, which would have increased water pressure between soil grains and turned the mass to soup.”
The “mass of mud, rocks and trees was traveling about 60 mph when it slammed into the (Stillaguamish River).”
The city of Darrington and the forestry industry are so intertwined that they are practically one and the same. The mascot for the Darrington Middle and High School is the Loggers. The school’s gym, which also serves as part of the Darrington Community Center, “tells you a lot about this town,” said KING 5’s Chris Daniels in a recent story. “All wood, all local lumber. Built by loggers, for loggers.”
Signs around town say, “Logger Power/Git Er Done.” The largest employer in the town of 1,300 people is the Hampton sawmill, which has 130 employees and is responsible for another 170 jobs through mill-related businesses. Even Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin owns a logging company.
So it was no surprise when the timber community banded tightly together in the wake of the March 22 landslide in nearby Oso that killed at least 30 people. For nearly two weeks, loggers have searched the slide, bringing their heavy equipment to clear the mud and debris, opening their homes to the affected families, working long hours to help their own.
We already know that the private forest land in Washington State plays a vital role in the carbon cycle. Now with biomass fuel we can make use of these working forests for another carbon positive process, power generation. Biomass boilers use harvest and milling by products to generate steam as an alternative to fossil fuels.