The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

Round Top crater, tilted 90° to right, and quarried.

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The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

I think I have settled on the epitaph for my tombstone: Have Fun and Be Kind. Actually, while I concede the certainty of mortality, I don’t really want a tombstone. I would prefer that my lifeless body be cremated and my bones crushed, so my powdery remains could be scattered at sea, perhaps in Bodega Bay following my father (or further out if the charter boat captain isn’t too stingy about using fuel). Then the gritty grey plume of my exiting ghost would settle out as a thin dusting on the muddy surface of the sea floor, and in time my ashes would get pressed into a thin-banded shale or mudstone of future millennia.

The only uncertainty about human extinction is its timing: Will it occur in the distant future when the sun expands into a Red Giant and consumes the inner planets, or will it be an unnecessarily premature self-inflicted demise by some combination of war (whether radioactive or merely with firearms), environmental exhaustion and climate change? I suspect humanity will select option B, but — through the magical power of denial — conceptualize the experience as victimization by unanticipated natural catastrophes. In any event, I do not find the inevitability of human extinction to be regrettable. Humanity is but one of many simultaneous and transitory expressions of Life On Earth, and this earth is only a minute speck of an unimaginably vast universe that can obviously sprout life. So relax, the earth and the universe will carry on majestically without us; we are as unnecessary to them as the dinosaurs were.

Like the animals and plants at the time of the dinosaurs, the life forms of today may become the coal and petroleum fueling the pottery kilns of future primitives, like the Anasazi, or the industries of future technological societies, if any.

I find the contemplation of geologic history, and the learning about its particulars on those parts of earth’s surface where I circulate, to impart a mental serenity like that gained by viewing vistas from mountaintops, or out in the expanses of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau of the American West.

The North American continent moves west across the surface of the globe because of the widening of the Atlantic Ocean caused by the magmatic extrusion of new rock from a linear spreading center that runs down the middle of that ocean basin from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The western edges of the American continents ride over the eastward-moving heavier tectonic plates supporting the Pacific Ocean, and which lie east of a series of north-south trending spreading centers. The eastern edges of the Pacific Ocean plates colliding into the American continents plunge into the earth, or subduct, to melt under the weight of those continents’ westward advance.

A Pacific spreading center, whose northern end was tilted to the east relative to its southern end, began to subduct under North America 30 million years ago (30 Mya), in what is today Southern California. Faults perpendicular to this spreading center extended westward (with a tilt to the north) from its northern and southern extremities. As this spreading center was overridden by the western edge of North America, it caused that portion of the overlying continent that was west of the buried spreading center to break off and begin sliding to the north, and west. The line of this fracture lengthened as the subduction of the spreading center continued, and this was the origin of the San Andreas Fault (SAF).

The north-south trending SAF lies near the California coast. By 20 Mya, the northern end of the SAF had extended north into Central California. By 10 Mya, the northern end of the SAF was near Monterey Bay, and today it is in Northern California at Cape Mendocino, which is the westernmost extent of the California coast.

The northern end of the SAF is a triple point from which emerges the Mendocino Fault, which runs perpendicular to the SAF and westward out to sea. Slippage along both the SAF and the Mendocino Fault is such that earth on the opposite side of the fault is seen to move to the right. The land just north of the triple point is colliding eastward into North America, and the land (ocean floor) just south of the triple point and west of the SAF is colliding northward into the subduction occurring north of the triple point.

The confluence of tectonic motions at the triple point generates sufficient geologic pressure and heat to cause vigorous seismic activity and volcanism in its vicinity. For over 20 million years, volcanoes have preceded the northward advance of the northern triple point of the SAF. The Neenach Volcano, in Los Angeles County, erupted 23 Mya and was subsequently split by the SAF so that its western half now lies 314 km (195 miles) to the northwest in present day Pinnacles National Park (which is east of the Salinas Valley and 130 km, or 80 miles, south of San Jose). From 10 Mya to 9 Mya, volcanoes erupted in what are today the hills east of the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. About 2.4 Mya, numerous volcanoes were active in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which lies north of the counties of Napa and Sonoma. The most recent eruptions in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field occurred about 11,000 years ago around Mount Konocti. Today, the magma chamber beneath the Clear Lake Volcanic Field is exploited to extract geothermal energy by the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world.

The volcano in my neighborhood is Round Top, which is uphill from the city of Oakland in what is today a public park, the Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve.

Between 16 Mya and 14 Mya, the San Francisco Bay Area was part of a marine basin a mile deep (1.6 km). The marine sediments of this basin are today lithified in the rocks of the Claremont Formation. The ocean floor of this basin was uplifted, between 14 Mya to 12 Mya, and the sedimentation of this period occurred in shallow water. This seafloor was lifted above sea level some time after 12 Mya, and for 2 million years the land was an alluvial plain accumulating sediments from streams running east from a chain of coastal mountains, which were situated where the San Francisco Peninsula and the Golden Gate Bridge (the entrance to San Francisco Bay) are today. This plain dipped toward the east to meet the shore of an inland sea near the present day towns of Orinda and Lafayette. These terrestrial sediments, from 12 Mya to 10 Mya, were lithified into the rocks of the Orinda Formation.

The Round Top volcano erupted many times between 10 Mya and 9 Mya, spreading thick layers of basalt lava over the layered stream sediments and gravels of the Orinda Formation. The surrounding countryside was a low plain with lakes, so volcanic ash ejected during eruptions would fall into water to settle out in thin, uniform layers, which were subsequently compacted into finely-banded rock. Ash and cinders also fell on dry land, and this too was eventually compacted into rock. Between periods of volcanic activity, sedimentation occurred by the action of streams or in lake bottoms, as in the earlier time of the Orinda Formation. The combination of rocks formed during the million-year period of Round Top’s volcanic activity is called the Moraga Formation.

You can see an impressive cross section of the alternating layers of lava and sedimentary rocks of the Moraga Formation on either side of Highway 24 on the eastern side of the Caldecott Tunnel, which passes through the north-south trending range of low mountains defining the eastern boundary of the San Francisco Bay lowland. These layers have been tilted up nearly to the vertical because of the flexing and faulting of the land due to the tectonic pressure of continental collision. (1)

Since its extinction, the Round Top volcano has been tilted over about ninety degrees, along with the rest of the Moraga Formation, and its interior has been exposed by the combined effects of erosion and quarrying. Today, one can walk up to a cross section of a basalt lava feeder tube (exposed by excavation), which was once deep inside the volcanic cone;

Cross-section view of now horizontal Round Top basalt lava tube.

and one can walk into the tilted crater of the volcano to see lithified layered ash and massive basalt.

basalt lava flow, and ash

A video about Round Top, which also shows scenes of the countryside in and about Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve, is posted on the Internet at

http://youtu.be/ZWk47VrRbKk.

This article is not what the English teachers call a “persuasive essay,” as I have no argument to advance, nor any moral to conclude with. I was just rambling on my own, following trails in my mind. But, I will leave you with this, from one future rock to another: have fun and be kind.

Note

(1) For photos of the road-cut at the Caldecott Tunnel (Moraga Formation), see the following web page (and the web links therein):

The route 24 cut, south side
11 August 2013
http://oaklandgeology.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/the-route-24-cut-south-side/

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Originally published at:

The Volcano Behind Oakland
12 August 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci69.html

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Navarro Beach Surf

Eleven photographs of the surf at Navarro Beach, Mendocino County, California on 11 March 2019 follow. I was fascinated by the endless variability of the waves, the foam, the lighting, the glinting of the sun on the surface of the water; as well as the feel of the sun’s warmth, the wind’s coolness, the crisp feel of the sand and grit underfoot, and being enveloped by the unconcerned majestic wildness of nature in this one secluded spot. The taking of the photographs was merely a way of occupying my human body while my mind and spirit were absorbed into this greater reality.

To see any of the images in full size, and to be able to explore it in detail, click on it to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mendocino County, 2019

I just came back from a visit to Mendocino County, California, and here are 20 of my pictures from that trip. I’ve chosen to present these photos at a “large” size (not “full”) and “high” resolution (not “maximum). I hope you enjoy them.

We stayed in this house, designed to collect solar heat with its high row of windows facing south, and its full length solarium. The large vegetable and fruit garden is being prepared once again for the coming spring.

 

A meditative spot by the house is the Koi Pond.

 

Daffodils have started to carpet the green fields of the old cemetery for the town of Manchester.

 

Navarro Beach, where the Navarro River meets the Pacific Ocean, south of the hamlets of Albion and Little River.

 

I can never take too many pictures of the beach and surf.

 

The “isness” of nature is so beautiful, it takes you out of yourself and into the universal and primordial.

 

Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865-1937) was an American fine arts painter. She made this self portrait in oil, in 1881, when she was a 16 year old art student in San Francisco. This photo is only of a portion of the full painting.

 

Grace Hudson spent most of her life in the small city of Ukiah (inland Mendocino County), where today many of her art works are displayed at the Grace Hudson Museum.

 

Grace Hudson focused her artistry on the portraiture of the Pomo Indians, who live (still) in the Ukiah and Potter valleys (of inland Mendocino County). She painted real people in the natural settings of the region. This particular painting is about “the birth of song.”

 

A young Pomo girl with her pet fox.

 

A young Pomo girl with an orange, and attitude.

 

Grace Hudson made many paintings of Pomo children and babies. This is a detail of one of her best known “baby pictures.”

 

Grace Hudson sketched this amazingly subtle and detailed portrait of an expert Pomo basket weaver, and friend, with bitumen (which I think of as a coal/tar crayon).

 

Nit’s Cafe is a small, wonderful Thai-themed restaurant in Fort Bragg.

 

This view shows over 90% of the dining area of Nit’s Cafe. Note the potted orchids and colored lights. The food is phenomenal; the seafood is exquisite.

 

Menus at Nit’s Cafe.

 

Here is the chef of this one-woman enterprise, Nit herself: an accomplished gourmet chef who combines refined French culinary technique with Thai sensibility, and a passion for fine cooking. A lively and lovely person. Nit’s is at 322 CA Hwy 1 (the main street through Fort Bragg, in the center of town).

 

Point Navarro, north of Navarro Beach and south of Albion and Little River; looking west toward the setting sun, from near the edge of the high cliff (rocky surf below, and a very windy day).

 

The ceaseless surf at Navarro Point.

 

Looking north from the same cliff-edge spot at Navarro Point.

 

Climate Change Bites Big Business

“Electoral politics is not the solution to the Earth-threatening problems we face.”
– Jeffrey St. Clair (10 August 2018, Counter Punch)

There is now no non-violent way to reverse climate change. Even with morally unrestrained action, it is probable that there is now no physical possibility of reversing climate change. The time for action was 1973-1979, the time of the two oil embargoes (the post Israeli War – against Egypt and Syria – Arab Oil Embargo of 1973; and the related-to-the-Iranian-Revolution vengeful price gouge oil embargo of 1979). This was the period of the Watergate-climax finale of the Nixon Administration, the Ford Administration, and the Carter “energy crisis” Administration. Politically, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 killed the possibility of US climate change action.

From Reagan through Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama to Trump, the mentioning of climate change – as one of government’s highest priorities, as one of corporate America’s foremost concerns (to be addressed, not suppressed), and as one of mainstream media’s primary and continuing focuses and leading stories – was minimized if not altogether absent. If anything, climate change denialism was heavily promoted by corporate and partisan (right wing) media, and by legions of corporate agents, flacks and factotums masquerading as elected representatives in federal and state governments. That has now changed.

Climate change is now all over the front pages of the newspapers and is the headline story of the mainstream mass media, primarily because of the massive fires in California whose smoke has even reached New York City. Why this new overt and blaring mainstream news attention to climate change, a subject that was officially hush-hush, trivial and fake news so recently in the past? Obviously because climate change has begun costing big money to major sectors of American capitalism.

In the case of the 2017-2018 California wildfires, one of the costs to capitalism is the financial threat of bankruptcy via liability suits against Northern California’s regulated monopoly utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which is being held responsible for causing the Sonoma and Napa Counties fires of 2017, because electric power lines swung into too-near tree branches during high winds setting off sparks that ignited fires that raced across the dry countryside, incinerating many communities and much industrial infrastructure (e.g., for telephone, internet and TV distribution, and also numerous small business facilities, croplands and vineyards).

A second set of costs to capitalism from California’s vast wildfires of 2017-2018 are the high losses to fire insurance companies, prompting their threats to leave the California insurance market, which in essence would mean a very sharp increase of fire insurance rates for California residents, homeowners and businesses. It seems unlikely to everybody that multi-countywide wildfires like those of 2017 and 2018 are a fluke unlikely to reoccur next year and thereafter.

Companies offering flood, tornado and hurricane insurance along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, and in Puerto Rico, may now also be smarting from the increased damage caused by more frequent and more powerful hurricanes, and the drenching and flooding rainstorms of the last few years. As with the vaster wildfires and longer wildfire season in the West, the more frequent and extensive flood and tornado disasters in the Great Plains and Gulf and Atlantic coasts have likely seeded thoughts of insurance flight and massive rate increases, and loan rate increases, in the minds of the moguls of the liability underwriting industry and the investment banking industry.

Higher insurance and loan costs hamper any business operation, and dampen real estate construction and sales activity, as well as adding usually unproductive costs to the living expenses of homeowners and renters seeking to buy a little security against unanticipated personal catastrophes.

It is good to remember that the reason the nuclear power industry (for electric generation) is dead is because the insurance industry worldwide rates nuclear power as an infinite liability and thus an uninsurable risk. Nuclear power can only exist where government assumes 100% of the liability in perpetuity. Insurance companies are starting to get the queasy feeling that perhaps wildfires in California (and probably the Great American Desert west of the Mississippi), as well as hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, are growing into potentially bankrupting infinite liability insurance risks.

A true and honest free market zealot would say: “So what, if companies like PG&E are at fault for wildfire apocalypses then let them get sued into bankruptcy. Another set of entrepreneurs will take their place as providers of electricity and natural gas for consumers, and profit as they deserve for providing safe and reliable service. Also, if some insurance companies are too scared to underwrite the risks of wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, then let them run away or price themselves out of the market, because newer entrepreneurs will become new insurance providers who will take advantage of capturing an underserved market by offering affordable insurance, and thus profit by gaining a large customer base that would then dilute their aggregate risk.” Yes, zealot, but “true and honest” does not usually pair with “profit” when we are dealing with Big Money operators. So, what is more likely to happen?

In the official postmortem of the 2017 Northern California wildfires, PG&E was pointed to as the primary (essentially only) culprit because of the arcing contact between live electric cables and dry tree limbs during the high winds preceding the fires. PG&E is required by regulations to maintain a set clearance between its power cables and all trees near them. That clearance was obviously insufficient, either because of an inadequacy of the state regulations, or an insufficiency of tree trimming maintenance by PG&E’s tree trimming contractors, or both. Fingers will point, courts will be busy.

However, the idea of thousands of burned-out wildfire victims suing PG&E into bankruptcy will not happen because the state of California would then have the colossal headache of finding a new enormous and technically competent business entity to seamlessly take over the operations of producing and distributing electric power and natural gas to many millions of Californians populating a large and geographically diverse terrain. So, California state government will revise old laws or craft new ones to provide too-important-to-fail utilities like PG&E (and Edison International, and San Diego Gas & Electric) with some legal protection from the financial threat of bankruptcy over the liability of causing wildfires. (See the citation at the end for the legalistic details.)

The FIRE combine (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate; and their meshing as Wall Street speculation), along with the War Industries Complex, has a stranglehold on today’s U.S. Government. Recall that FIRE owned the political career of Barack Obama, who dutifully protected them from justifiable prosecution and punishment for the greatest robbery of all time, in 2008; and that military-related expenses and subsidies consume over 70% of the federal budget (our taxes). While American Big Business includes many other rich and politically powerful sectors, like Big Pharma, I think that FIRE and the War Industries Complex are the largest forces in American capitalism today.

It seems to me that now that climate change is biting Big Business in a big way, the mainstream media is excited to report all the lurid details of catastrophes spawned by climate change, because it is echoing the fears of their prime and patronizing audience: the loss of big money by Big Business, and its fear of the loss of future certainty of uninterrupted profitability. Big Capital is now openly scared about climate change, and that is what we are now seeing as headline news.

We will also be seeing urgent promotions – presented as mass media news and commentary – for varieties of government subsidized protection for those sectors of Big Business that feel most financially threatened by the biting furies of climate change. The little that California state government is now doing for moderating the potentially infinite liabilities of its wildfire-haunted electric utilities is only the beginning of what we can expect in the way of publicly subsidized climate change insurance for Big Business.

I think that the pretense of climate change denialism by the Big Money has crumbled, and we are now entering a period of overt climate change acknowledgment coupled with fanatical efforts to gain public subsidies for private interests to both insure and indemnify them against climate change-related financial losses, and to also preserve the nature of their businesses even if they are major CO2 and organic vapor polluters, like the petrochemical and coal companies.

Notes:

California Governor Taking PG&E Closer to Fire Law Changes
July 25, 2018
https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2018/07/25/496015.htm

Facing $17 Billion in Fire Damages, a CEO Blames Climate Change
By: Mark Chediak
August 13, 2018
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-13/facing-17-billion-in-fire-damages-a-ceo-blames-climate-change

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This article appeared first as:

Climate Change Bites Big Business
14 August 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/14/climate-change-bites-big-business/

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