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Interview: Jim O'Connor

Jim O’Connor, a Portland-based hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, has been a steady contributor to research on floods of all types in the Pacific Northwest.

Nick Zentner interviews Lake Bonneville Flood expert Jim O'Connor.

Multnomah-Falls, Columbia Gorge.

Multnomah Falls
Columbia Gorge

USGS World Flood publication.

Click to view

In an interview recorded on April 7, 2011 at Central Washington University, Dr. Jim O’Connor visits Ellensburg to reflect on Ice Age Floods research since the pioneering work of J Harlen Bretz – and compares southern Idaho’s Bonneville Flood with eastern Washington’s more familiar Missoula Floods.

A former University of Arizona graduate student who studied under well-known floods geologist Vic Baker (CWU geologist Lisa Ely was a fellow Baker student at the time), Jim is part of the next wave of field geologists that have worked on unsolved mysteries in the Channeled Scablands. J Harlen Bretz started fieldwork on eastern Washington’s Ice Age Floods features in the 1920’s, Vic Baker and Richard Waitt began in the 1960’s, and Jim’s colleagues got their start in the 1980’s. In addition to Dr. O’Connor, Brian Atwater and Gerardo Benito have added rich detail to the timing, volume, and velocity of the floodwater that dramatically changed the appearance of eastern Washington.

Later in the interview, Jim discusses his landmark work on the Bonneville Flood – a result of Utah’s Lake Bonneville spilling over Red Rock Pass and surging into southern Idaho’s Snake River drainage. The floor of the Snake River Canyon and Hell’s Canyon is littered with Bonneville Flood deposits – and Jim’s experience mapping both in Idaho and eastern Washington allows him to carefully compare and contrast the deposits of both the Bonneville Flood and the Missoula Floods.

Late in the interview, Jim describes his work with the US Geological Survey’s Water Science Center in Portland, Oregon. Dr. O’Connor is an authority on the Pleistocene Ice Age Floods history of the Columbia River Gorge – and he works on more recent, historic floods on the Columbia and other rivers of the Northwest.

- Jim O'Connor's Research -

USGS Professional Summary

Jim O'Connor USGS leads Ice Age Floods Institute Field Trip.
Jim O'Connor USGS in Columbia Gorge. Map shows area between Cascade Locks to The Dalles, OR. [Bruce Bjornstad photo]

Lake Bonneville Flood slideshow
-Click bottom-right to expand full screen-

Rounded boulders deposited by the Bonneville flood - Snake River, Id. Jim O'Connor photo.
Rounded boulders deposited by Bonneville Flood within Snake River Canyon. - Photo by Jim O'Connor.

Lake Missoula rhythmites over Bonneville flood deposits - Tammany Bar (South of Lewiston, ID).
Missoula rhythmites over Bonneville flood deposits - Tammany Bar (South of Lewiston, ID).

FREE full length geology programming -

View more "Central Rocks" episodes related to the Ice Age Floods:

Taped on the campus of Central Washington University and hosted by CWU Geology Professor Nick Zentner, 'Central Rocks' is a series of interviews with geologists who teach or conduct research in Washington. 'Central Rocks: Roadside Geology', a new spin-off project, is a series of short films that feature familiar locations along Washington's scenic highways.

Geologist Bruce Bjornstad - Click to open video link.
Bruce Bjornstad

PNNL Geologist Bruce Bjornstad discusses the Missoula Floods and his popular 'On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods' guidebook series.
Geologist Gene Kiver - Click to open video link.
Gene Kiver

EWU Geology Professor Gene Kiver discusses the origins of the Ice Age Floods Institute.
Nick Zentner interviews Ice Age Floods expert Dr. Victor R. Baker.
Vic Baker

UA Geology Professor Vic Baker discusses his distinguished career devoted to Washington's Channeled Scablands.
Geologist Nick Zentner - Click to open video link.
Nick Zentner

CWU Geology Professor Nick Zentner lectures on eastern Washington's unique landscapes (Floods of lava and floods of water).
All photos by Tom Foster unless otherwise noted.
Screenshots courtesy "Central Rocks"

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