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After the breach

California is currently being slammed by another atmospheric river. A series of storms is blowing through, bringing lots of rain, which we always need. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning and a high wind advisory here, lasting through tomorrow evening (New Year's Eve). It is indeed blustery, and although the rainfall hasn't been very heavy, our weather station has recorded 2 inches of rain as of 14:30 this afternoon. Slow, steady rain like this is what we need to make a dent in the state's ongoing water deficit while (hopefully) not causing catastrophic flooding and landslides.

When we have had heavy rains for several days, I always look for Younger Lagoon to breach the sand bar and open out into the ocean. So over the past couple of weeks I went out after every rain just to see, and to watch the birds. Nada. But I always like watching birds, so it was hardly time wasted.

This morning I was at the lab doing stuff when Traci, who manages the marine mammal physiology group, found me and told me that the lagoon had breached, some time in the night. Cool! I had an appointment to get to, but had just enough time to rush down there and snap some photos. And I'm really glad I did, because I had never seen Younger Lagoon like this.

I've seen breaches before, but those were always fairly soon after the breakthrough, and there was a lot of water pouring out into the ocean. This morning it was very different. The lagoon had drained completely, and since there wasn't much water running into it, the entire bottom was exposed.

This is what it looked like from near the overlook.

Green bushes in foreground. A 3-pronged body of water in the midground: one prong to the left, one to the right, and one sticking up in the middle. Top third of the image is white sky.
Younger Lagoon, empty after having breached the sand bar
© Allison J. Gong

That reflective surface isn't water. It's the bottom of the lagoon. The bottom sediment is a shiny black, and probably smelled really bad right after the actual breach. I thought I noticed a little sulfur in the air when I came in this morning. Having seen what the top of the lagoon was like, I rushed down to the ocean end to see what was going on there.

The sand bar had been completely obliterated, leaving a sand cliff about my height. With nothing to hinder flow, was moving in both directions—every other wave or so flooding into the lagoon, and a steady light flow of fresh water draining from the lagoon.

Sand bank from upper left edge down to bottom. Ocean in the background. Water flowing between ocean on the left and right edge of photo. Cliff occupying top right corner of photo.
Younger Lagoon spilling into the ocean (and vice versa)
© Allison J. Gong

Here's a video, to give you a little taste of what it was like out there.

Younger Lagoon exchanging water with the Pacific Ocean

I had never seen the bottom of the lagoon before, and wondered what it was like for the birds when the breach happened. In the past week or so I'd seen a variety of water fowl, with the occasional shorebird thrown in for extra flavor. Today there were none, even on land, where the Canada geese and mallards hang out. Granted, the wind was blowing, and birds are sensible enough to find shelter.

We're getting more rain over the next few days, with a break in the action on Tuesday. I don't think the sand bar will re-form for a while yet. Should be fun to keep an eye on things!

What do you think?

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