At Discovery Park, on Puget Sound in Seattle, a high bluff (sea cliff) shows a record of events that marks the coming of the Vashon glacier that filled the Puget Sound region. The base of the bluff in this photo is composed of sedimentary beds. At high tide the waves of Puget Sound lap up against this outcrop.
The layers of sediment in this picture record the Olympia Interglacial interval, the time before the approach of the Vashon glacier. During the interglacial, meandering streams and rivers flowed north toward the sea, across what is now the Puget Sound region. The beds in the picture are evidence of those rivers, with ripples in the beds of sand indicating water flowing in broad, shallow stream channels; silt-plus-clay-rich layers indicating ponds and backwaters; and woody debris indicating trees, bushes and small plants growing in the area.
The Olympia Interglacial beds at the top of this picture are partly covered by blue-gray clay that has flowed down from the next layer of sediment above. Higher in the bluffs, above these Olympia Interglacial beds, is a sequence of sediments that records the approach and arrival of the Vashon glacier.
Possession Formation, Lawton Clay, Esperance Sand
This picture shows the Olympia Interglacial beds up to the break in slope, the point at which the slope becomes less steep and where many tufts of grass and a lone, dying tree grow. That zone where the grass and tree grow is where the Lawton Clay is located. The Lawton Clay, like most clay, is a weak, soft material that turns into slippery mud when wet. Most landslides in the Seattle area occur when steep land on top of the Lawton Clay slides after heavy rains have saturated the ground with water and turned the Lawton Clay into slick mud. Select the image to see a larger view. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.
The Lawton Clay, like any clay that is deposited in broad, flat layers, indicates that a large body of low-energy water was present. Clay accumulates at the bottom of lakes or relatively stagnant bodies of water.
As it entered the northern part of the Puget Sound basin, the advancing Vashon glacier probably dammed the drainage of the rivers whose sediments are seen in the Olympia Interbeds. The dammed rivers formed a series of large lakes. The Lawton Clay accumulated at the bottom of these large lakes.
Above the Lawton Clay in the photograph are steeper cliffs of Esperance Sand. The Esperance Sand consists of beds of clean sand and gravel. Based on the nature of the sediments, and the cross-beds and other sedimentary structures in the Esperance Sand, geologists reason that it was deposited in braided streams of rapidly flowing water. This indicates that the Vashon glacier was adjacent to the area--a wall of advancing ice looming nearby to the north that shed rivers of melt water ahead of itself and deposited an apron of sand and gravel around its periphery.
This picture shows the Vashon Till, at the top of the bluff near West Point at Discovery Park. The Vashon Till records the presence of the Vashon glacier itself. Like all glacial tills, it is an unsorted, unbedded mixture of clay, silt, sand, cobbles and boulders. Closer study reveals that some of the boulders are faceted (have flattened sides), with striations on the facets. Striations are parallel lines or grooves that look like shallow scratches. These boulders were carried at the base of the flowing ice. They were pressed by the tremendous weight of the overlying ice, scraping against dirt and rocks beneath the glacier. This forceful scraping results in faceting and striations. No other process is known that can alter boulders in such a fashion--one of the many lines of evidence that this deposit is indeed glacial till. Select the image to see a larger view. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.
Puget Sound and Beach Erratics
This picture shows Puget Sound from Discovery Park, Seattle. The lowlands around Puget Sound are covered by glacial drift. The glacial sediments were smoothed by the ice at the base of the Vashon glacier into the relatively flat horizon you see on the hills across Puget Sound. Select the image to see a larger view. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.
The troughs of the Puget Sound lowland, including the main channel of Puget Sound shown in the picture, were excavated through a combination of erosion by flowing glacial ice and hydraulic quarrying by melt water forced from beneath the glacier.
Uplifted Platform on South Bainbridge Island
This photograph shows the southeast end of Bainbridge Island, near Restoration Point, across the water from Discovery Park. A flat, tan-colored terrace runs just above the shoreline, to the right of the sailboat. This is a wave cut terrace, which records where average sea level used to be. Select the image to see a larger view. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.
Approximately 1,000 years ago, a great earthquake on the Seattle fault abruptly uplifted this wave-cut terrace, according to a variety of geologic evidence. The same earthquake apparently uplifted a wave-cut terrace directly across Puget Sound at Alki Point and caused a tsunami to wash up across West Point at Discovery Park and other shores and estuaries of Puget Sound, such as Possession Point on Whidbey Island and the Snohomish River estuary in Everett. It also caused numerous landslides to come tumbling down steep slopes in the Puget Sound region.
Glossary terms that appear on this page: interglacial; silt; clay; varve; cross-bed; sedimentary structures; sand; gravel; braided stream; cobble; unbedded; unsorted; till; striation; wave-cut terrace; estuary
Virtual Field Site--Discovery Park
© 2001 Ralph L. Dawes, Ph.D. and Cheryl D. Dawes