Researchers are studying a landslide area on Whidbey

A University of Washington researcher is hunting for answers about last year’s landslides in Old Clinton, and he’s seeking the community’s help. Justin Brooks, a graduate student with the university’s Earth and Space Sciences, applied geoscience masters program, is studying the series of slides that destroyed or damaged several cabins on Campers Row Walk in 2014 and 2015.

Justin Brooks takes a water measurement at the base of a landslide at Brighton Beach. The University of Washington graduate student is hoping to figure out just what caused the slide and others.

A University of Washington researcher is hunting for answers about last year’s landslides in Old Clinton, and he’s seeking the community’s help.

Justin Brooks, a graduate student with the university’s Earth and Space Sciences, applied geoscience masters program, is studying the series of slides that destroyed or damaged several cabins on Campers Row Walk in 2014 and 2015.

Brooks has a hunch that the triggers for the slides were more complex than the “lots of rain” explanation, and that understanding the circumstances better will not only further scientists’ knowledge about how and why landslides occur, but may also help predict future land movements.

“Landslides affect all the bluff areas throughout Puget Sound,” Brooks said. “It would be nice to come up with some kind of warning so there are no fatalities.”

Brooks’ work is specific to Brighton Beach and the geology there, but Brooks’ findings could provide a framework for research in other landslide-prone areas throughout the region, according to Terry Swanson, a Whidbey geologist and principal lecturer at the University of Washington.

“It could serve as a template,” Swanson said.

Swanson specializes in slope stability and is providing oversight of Brooks’ research.

The slides at Campers Row Walk, a walk-in shoreline community between Hastings and South Brighton Beach roads, occurred over a roughly two-month period.

The first significant slide happened in late December 2015, destroying one cabin and damaging another. Additional slides in February and March 2015 razed a boathouse and another cabin to the south.

A fifth cabin was lost to a slide in the same area more than 20 years ago. That lot has remained vacant ever since.

The goal of the research is to find out why the landslides occurred. To do so, Brooks said he’ll examine substrate geology, precipitation thresholds, development within the recharge area and other potential triggers. One of the big focuses is, of course, rain.

It’s no secret that landslides are often connected with heavy rainfall, but what’s less understood, according to Brooks and Swanson, is the amount and frequency of precipitation required to trigger an actual event. For example, late 2014 and early 2015 was a particularly wet winter but not the wettest.

“We’ve had much bigger precipitation events, so why now?” Swanson said.

The Brighton Beach landslides may have been subjected to a series of heavy rainfalls that occurred over a relatively short period of time, weeks or a month, rather than an entire season or even years. A bombardment may not have given the geology of the bluff — largely layers of sand and clay — the time it needed to drain.

Boiled down, water trapped in the clay layer below the surface may have become overloaded, causing everything above it to collapse.

Determining how long the area needs to drain, or the time required between heavy rainfalls, could be the “smoking gun” for Brooks, Swanson said. And a trend may be just what’s needed to warn remaining beach residents that another slide is imminent.

“If they (conditions) follow a similar pattern, we can tell folks that if we have a (certain) sequence of events they should keep their eyes open,” Brooks said.

To determine if the hunch is correct, Brooks is measuring water that’s still pouring off the bluff. The stream drains over a bulkhead at the beach. The measuring procedure is simple, consisting only of a bucket and a stop watch.

“We’ve averaging about four gallons a minute,” Brook said.

Brooks began his search for answers in April and plans to continue through October, but he’s looking for a few extra hands. He’s hoping beach residents step forward and help take measurements at least twice a day, but he’s also looking for any data about past events at Brighton Beach: locations, dates, times, the more specific the better. Precipitation logs or borehole/well log data would also be useful.

To participate, email Brooks at kiyote@uw.edu or call or text him at 813-205-3481.

 

More in News

Homelessness to be discussed at forum Monday

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition is inviting the public to join its “community… Continue reading

Oak Harbor High School art students seek votes in national competition

Oak Harbor High School art students are using their skills and creativity… Continue reading

Commissioner rejects prosecutor’s request

Last week, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said she would vote against… Continue reading

Highway 20 clear after 2-vehicle traffic accident

Highway 20 has been cleared after a two-vehicle motor vehicle accident occurred… Continue reading

Ebey’s Forever funds $66K in grants

Nearly a dozen historic properties in Central Whidbey will receive a total… Continue reading

Hundreds of newspapers burn in car fire, delivery delayed

A car fire delayed the delivery of hundreds of copies of the… Continue reading

Man tracks down stolen bicycles

A little detective work by a Clinton resident led to the return… Continue reading

Oak Harbor hosts Kindergarten Orientation

Oak Harbor Public Schools is hosting its annual Kindergarten Orientation at 6… Continue reading

WhidbeyHealth EMS seeks levy extension

Tax supports 60 percent of operating budget

Most Read