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Investigating Effort

Their study consists of 83 locations in the Pasco Basin.

In 1999, a group of senior geoscientists at the Hanford Nuclear Site, lead by Karl Fecht, published a 217-page geologic "atlas" on clastic dikes in the Pasco Basin of south-central Washington. It was meant to be a benchmark report for the ages, but unfortunately fell flat for several reasons.

Formatting. Its format is unlike most atlases. Instead of maps, it contains primarily bulleted text, photographs, tables, and diagrams formatted to a Powerpoint-like template.

Few Maps. There are a total of 21 small maps, 19 of which cover the same area (Hanford Site and vicinity). Eleven maps show only point locations of the study sites. Two are reference maps and six present new syntheses. That's 21 small maps in a 200 page report.

Mostly a Compilation. Information is mostly compiled from earlier publications (Reidel and Fecht, 1994a, 1994b), various in-house and consultant reports, and the lead author's unpublished field notes. 83 locations were addressed, at least 15 of which occur on access-restricted land (no public access).

A typical sheeted clastic dike composed of sand and silt intrudes late Pleistocene Missoula Flood deposits at Latah Creek near Spokane, WA. Structures identical to this one are widespread along the route of Ice Age megafloods, especially in slackwater rhythmites. The dikes occur as far north as Hunters, WA and as far south as the central Willamette Valley, OR. Lewiston, ID and White Swan, WA appear to be the eastern and western limits on their distribution. No dikes are found east of the former ice dam location (Sandpoint, ID), in the Glacial Lake Missoula basin, or in sediments above local maximum stages (elevations) of Ice Age flooding.

Unmet Goals. Despite its confident title, the "atlas" does not actually tackle the question of clastic dike origin, a goal of the project listed in Chapter 1.

Little Data. The report contains almost no data (e.g., measurements). In fact, it is unclear whether the report had any significant impact on Hanford colleagues of their research, or on that of geologists working outside the Hanford fencelines. Subsequent reports on dikes authored by Hanford-based researchers seem to have ignored its findings altogether. For example, it is unclear how the "atlas" overlaps, compliments, or contrasts with Murray et al. (2001) and Murray et al. (2007), which examined dikes at some of the same locations.

Self Edited. No technical editor is identified. Footnotes indicate early drafts received comments from 5 coauthors and 4 outside reviewers. None of the four reviewers had published previously on clastic dikes (or since) and would not be considered experts on the topic today. I've contacted one reviewer and asked him to clarify his role, which he graciously did. I will track down the rest and ask them the same question. It appears at this point Bjornstad (not Fecht) wrote, assembled, and edited the entire thing himself. To my eye, that seems right.

Photograph Quality. The "atlas" contains numerous photographs. Many are small, blurry, high contrast, or otherwise difficult to interpret. For example, Figures 3.3, 3.13, 4.7, 4.11, 4.12, 5.2, 5.11, 5.20, 5.25, 5.26, 5.29, 5.32, 6.5, and 7.7.

Strange Terminology. Terms and phrases used are often vague. For example, "random occurrence dikes", "multigenetic processes", "major erosional unconformity in the silt facies", "reference locations", "Hanford formation", "atlas". At times, the author lingers over inconsequential phenomena such as "regular-shaped" vs. "irregular-shaped" polygonal networks and becomes mired in ponderous attempts to classify the dikes by various systems of marginal value. The generous editor would consider the entire book a rough draft.

Attribution Issues. The term "injection dikes" (title of report) was introduced 75 years earlier by Jenkins (1925) and "injection" was used by Allison (1941), Fryxell et al. (1965), and Beaulieu (1974), though none of these authors are given credit. Three papers on clastic dikes in south-central Washington (Cooley et al., 1996; Neill et al, 1997; Pogue, 1998), all published prior to the "atlas" were not cited, though each paper provided new data, analysis, and contained some of the only actual measurements on dikes collected in the region up to that time. Considerable deference is given by Fecht et al. to unoriginal reports by Hanford colleagues (Newcomb, 1962; Brown, 1968; Black, 1979; Burnham and Johnson, 2012, Appendix D).

Multigenetic? The report concludes the dikes are "multigenetic" structures, an unsatisfying explanation that reflects a remarkable level of uncertainty given the 30-year careers of several authors. The lead author spent his career working entirely on the post-basalt sediments of the Pasco Basin, specifically the sediments that host clastic dikes.

Failure to Engage. The debate over the origin of clastic dikes in Eastern Washington has persisted for nearly a century (Jenkins, 1925; Cooley, 2020). Accounts of this debate, however, is absent from the "atlas" and most other articles written by Hanford geoscientists. For science to function, theories must be forwarded and critiqued by others. Readers must have the chance to see the evidence, evaluate it, and respond. Your job is to present specific evidence from specific outcrops, to receive criticism, and address it. Strengthen, clarify, or abandon. But Hanford's Quaternary geologists simply do not engage in the clastic dike debate, which might explain why Fecht et al. arrived at "multigenetic" for their origin. A cursory glance at papers published by in-house players such as Newcomb, Black, and Bjornstad reveals fundamental disagreements regarding the dike's origin did exist. But let's not ruffle any feathers with our 200 page omnibus. Geology by committee is best for everyone. Stick to the company line.

Lack of Effort. The lack of effort is remarkable. It is mystifying how well-paid, well-supported federal geologists can spend their careers working in flat terrain on Quaternary sediments exposed in large trenches and natural cuts located steps from the office and not produce a robust, comprehensive, quantitative, and original report on clastic dikes. If the dikes are merely curiosities, why spend 200+ pages on them? If they are important to the geology of Hanford and the surrounding region, why not conduct a proper study? Or just jot down a few measurements. Or reach out to local colleges and universities.

Teachable Moment. In the end, Fecht et al. (1999) succeeds in this respect: it provides us with a teachable moment - a beautiful example of how not to conduct geoscience research. The central geologic question surrounding the clastic dikes in Eastern Washington is something close to: "How did they form?" or "What's the geologic trigger?". I asked this long ago (Cooley et al., 1996) and have, over the past 20 years, made some hard yards toward an answer (Cooley, 2020). The boys from Richland? Enjoying retirement.

"Thinking about this the other day - who have I learned geology from and what did I learn? The most important of my mentors have been Roland, E-An Zen, and Darrell...and what I've learned most of all from all of them is it pays to work really hard. Doing good science is really hard work." - R. Haugerud interviewed by N. Zentner

My study. I've been investigating clastic dikes in Eastern Washington since 1995. The map above shows 488 GPS locations of sites at which I have documented the presence/absence of dikes (and often a great deal more). Where dikes occur, I excavate, measure their widths, and count their fill bands in addition to describing the local stratigraphy. Currently on my 8th field book of measurements.


Allison, I.S., 1941, Flint's fill hypothesis of origin of scabland, Journal of Geology, v. 49

Beaulieu, J.D., 1968, Geologic hazards of Hood River, Wasco, and Sherman Counties, OR, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral IndustriesBulletin 91, p. 18

Black, R.F., 1979, Clastic dikes of the Pasco Basin, southeastern Washington, Rockwell-Hanford Operations Final Report, RHO-BWI-C-64

Braccini, E.; Boer, W.; Hurst, A.; Huuse, M.; Vigorito, M.; Templeton, G., 2008, Sand injectites, Oilfield Review 20, p. 34-49

Brown, R.E., 1968, A study of reported faulting in the Pasco Basin, Water and Land Resources Section, Environmental and Radiological Science Department Report BNWL-662

Johnson, D.L.; Horwath Burnham, J.L., 2012, Appendix D in Introduction: overview of concepts, definitions, and principles of soil mound studies, in Horwath Burnham, J.L. and Johnson, D.L. (editors), Mima mounds: the case for polygenesis and bioturbation, Geological Society of America Special Paper 490, p. 1-19

Cooley, S.W.; Pidduck, B.K.; Pogue, K.R., 1996, Mechanism and timing of emplacement of clastic dikes in the Touchet Beds of the Walla Walla Valley, south-central Washington, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 28, p. 57

Cooley, S.W., 2015, The curious clastic dikes of the Columbia Basin, in R.J. Carson, Many Waters: Natural history of the Walla Walla Valley and vicinity, Keokee Books, p. 90-91

Fecht, K.R; Bjornstad, B.N.; Horton, D.G.; Last, G.V.; Reidel, S.P; Lindsey, K.A., 1999, Clastic injection dikes of the Pasco Basin and Vicinity, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Restoration, Bechtell-Hanford Report BHI-01103

Fryxell et al. (1965) Ephrata to Pullman: Scabland tracts, loess, soils and human prehistory R. Fryxell; G.E. Neff; D.E. Trimble INQUA Field Conference Guidebook

Jenkins, O.P., 1925 Clastic dikes of eastern Washington and their geologic significance American Journal of Science 57, p. 234-246

Lupher, R.L., 1944, Clastic dikes of the Columbia Basin region, Washington and Oregon, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 55

Murray, C.J.; Horton, D.G.; Ward, A.L.; Gee, G.W., 2001, Hydrogeologic influence of clastic dikes on vadose zone transport, Section 7.3.3, in T.M. Poston et al. (editors), Hanford Site environmental progress report for calendar year 2001, PNNL-13910

Murray et al., 2007, Influence of clastic dikes on vertical migration of contaminants at the Hanford Site, Vadose Zone Journal 6, p. 959-970

Newcomb, R.C., 1962, Hydraulic injection of clastic dikes in the Touchet Beds, Washington, Oregon & Idaho, Geological Society of the Oregon Country Newsletter 28, p. 70

Neill, A.R.; Leckey, E.H.; Pogue, K.R., 1997, Pleistocene dikes in Tertiary rocks: Downward emplacement of Touchet Bed clastic dikes into co-seismic fissures, south-central Washington, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 29, p.55

Pogue, K.R., 1998, Earthquake-generated(?) structures in Missoula flood slackwater sediments (Touchet Beds) of southeastern Washington, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 30, p. 398-399

Reidel, S.P.; Fecht, K. R., 1994a, Geologic map of the Priest Rapids 1: 100,000 quadrangle, WA: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Open File Report 94-13

Reidel, S. P.; Fecht, K. R., 1994b, Geologic map of the Richland 1:100,000 quadrangle, WA: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Open File Report 94-8

Russell, I.C., 1893, A geological reconnoissance in central Washington, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 108

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