Wild history of Olympic Peninsula rivers shown on new map

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As the Olympic Mountains have formed over the past 40 million years they have become Washington’s windshield, catching storms that bring more than 180 inches of precipitation every year. Five rivers do most of the work of draining all that rain and snow from the mountains. .

Using lidar data, DNR’s Division of Geology and Earth Resources has developed a stunning new map to show how the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, Bogachiel, Quillayute and Sol Duc rivers have carved paths to carry runoff from the peaks through the dense Olympic Peninsula vegetation and back to the Pacific Ocean. DNR’s talented GIS cartographer Daniel Coe used data from past lidar scans to show how the floodplains of these rivers has changed over milennia. 

Elevation along the river changes from white to green as it has been influenced by the river channels migration and past flood events.

As beautiful as this imagery is, it is also a display of the revolutionary capacity of lidar maps.

Airplanes flew over the rivers and used light pulses to collect massive amounts of information about the elevation changes along these wild rivers. These accurate, high-resolution pictures of the earth’s surface allows geologists to see the bare surface of the earth, free of the extreme vegetation that hides the Olympic Peninsula’s geologic forms. Coe used that lidar data to develop three-dimensional models of the rivers flood planes.

Thanks to support from the Washington legislature last year, DNR is expanding the lidar view of Washington to provide our state’s communities information about the geology around them.

To see more of DNR’s visual presentations about Washington’s geology, www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/geology/publications-and-data/presentation-archive

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