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Three Bizarre Quirks of Science on the Oregon Coast: Daylight, Crabs, Lava

Published 10/19/20 at 5:44 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Bizarre Quirks of Science on the Oregon Coast: Daylight, Crabs, Lava

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(Oregon Coast) – From the beaches of Brookings to the rolling hills of Astoria, the Oregon coast is always full of surprises. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, other times it’s a frightening tale. (Above: Lincoln City)

Here’s three such funky facts of coastal science.

Scary Story of Beautiful Sights. There’s so much jagged beauty on the northern half of the coast, in the form of black, basaltic headlands such as Tillamook Head, Neahkahnie Mountain, Cape Foulweather, Cape Lookout and more. But did you know they have a completely frightening backstory?

Cape Lookout

Take your mind back to about 15 million years ago: a massive river of lava erupts in what is now Idaho, so big it covers miles at a time as it marches along around 4 mph. It sears entire forests into ashes and fumes. It builds gigantic dams of molten rock that are perhaps miles long, sometime bulging up to 20 feet high. It marches its way to what was then the ocean – some 20 miles farther east than it is now.

The whole thing is often hundreds of miles long. When it reaches the softer sediments of the ocean, sometimes it dives downward and then re-erupts elsewhere.

When all that cools, it’s called basalt. The major headlands we see were once giant crevices or canyons, which all that lava filled up. Over millions of years, the exterior soil and rock eroded away, leaving the headlands.

Those re-eruptions? Those were smaller chunks of rock that were whittled away by time into shapes like Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock and Twin Rocks in Rockaway Beach.

This did not happen on the south Oregon coast. Places like Bandon or the tilted landscapes of Coos Bay were something entirely different – and much older. More Oregon Coast Geology.

Crab Meat is at Its Best in December. In comes those cold, wintry and windy days of the Oregon coast when December rolls around, but this is actually the best time to go crabbing.

According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Dungeness crab meat is at its fullest by then. By November, they are plump and full of meat after filling up their new shells with body mass. They molt every summer, so it takes them awhile to grow into the new shells, but once they do: yum.

Some years are better than others. ODFW always does some testing of crab meat in the fall to see how thick the crawly little morsels are. Need more weird crab facts? See Tiny and See-Through on the Oregon Coast: Adorable but Eerie

Extra Daylight on the Oregon Coast. A weird little niche of science is that sunset happens just a tiny bit later on the coastline than the inland areas. In fact, on the northern coast it’s about a seven-minute difference between the beaches and Portland. This difference shrinks the farther south you go: it can be more about five minutes later between Bandon and Medford.

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The whole effect is definitely exaggerated by the mountains to the west of the inland state and other large peaks (such as the West Hills in Portland cause sunsets east of there to happen much sooner). Sunset times are always given with a flat horizon in mind, so you’ll see a much bigger difference between Eugene and Florence, for example.

However, in the end, if you want a little extra daylight at the end of the day during those darker days of winter, head to the coast. Just remember: sunrise times are later on the coast than inland.

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