Fossil Maple Leaf, Winthrop Formation

Winthrop, WA
Mid-Cretaceous (110 mya)
Robert Niese

In honor of National Fossil Day, here’s a neat fossil from the Winthrop Formation in north-central Washington. This species looks very similar to modern day maple species, but has yet to be formally identified. This particular fossil formation is rife with beautiful plant specimens. By studying the morphology of these fossil leaves, we can estimate the mean annual temperature of the region 110 million years ago. Using this method, scientists estimate that mid-Cretaceous Washington was almost 12 degrees (˚C) warmer than it is today. (Specimen courtesy of the University of Puget Sound, Geology Department)

Sea Stacks at Stawberry Bay

Olympic National Park, WA
June 3, 2013
Robert Niese

Sea Stacks are created as wave action erodes certain rock faster than others along the coastline. Olympic National Park is famous for its sea stacks which come in countless shapes and sizes.

Columnar Basalts (17.4-6 myo), Frenchman Coulee

Vantage, WA
April 7, 2013
Robert Niese

Basalt columns such as these famous and well-climbed basalts outside Vantage, WA, are formed as lava cooled and fractured. Fracture lines form vertical, polygonal columns often known as “organ pipes” or “postpiles” here in the PNW. This landscape was then carved by some of the largest floods North America has ever seen, which roared through the Columbia Basin dozens of times between 1700 and 1500 years ago. These floods were largely caused by an ice dam at the edge of Glacial Lake Missoula which repeatedly broke and re-froze throughout this period.