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Win-win is one of those feel-good expressions that gets splashed around far too much, saying everyone benefits from a set of circumstances.

But Central Washington University’s Department of Geological Sciences studies of Ellensburg Blue Agate is in fact, beneficial to everyone involved. Murdock Research Laboratory manager Angela Halfpenny gets to crunch the data derived from scanning the available Ellensburg Blue. CWU undergraduate Sydney Dale benefits from taking part in the study, and the Kittitas County Historical Museum benefits from having its supply of Blue validated.

“This allows our collection to be shared in a different way,” museum director Sadie Thayer said. “We know our Blue is authentic, but we benefit when there’s research to back it up from a historic point of view.

“It’s very interesting what Angela is doing and we’ll be working with her in the future to revise Ellensburg Blue book. That will be a different project. But we’re happy to see her work.”

Halfpenny methodically worked her way through the process at her work station Thursday morning, taking careful measurements of each sample. The calculations of chemical compound that determine where it comes from, degree of purity, what makes it blue. In essence, compiling a data base of the semiprecious stone that’s formation dates back to millions of years and is unique because the sky blue color.

“What we use the information for is determining characteristic elements of one formation compared to a different location and develop a data base,” Halfpenny said. “From our trace elements analysis, we’ve found Ellensburg Blue is high in an element called zirconium.

“We are measuring which elements in the periodic table are characteristic to stones from one location to stones from another.”

They were studying stones donated by Carl Carlson. Stones from Carlson Brothers are unique in a geological sense. Personal communication and written articles all describe the Ellensburg Blue Agate as being transported into the Kittitas Valley by glaciers.

A common characteristic has appeared in 95% of the stones. The feature is different from those found in other blue agates studied from other parts of the world. This provides a means of identifying an Ellensburg Blue Agate from other blue agates.

The variations of color explain the uniqueness of the color in the actual vein. The distance of as little as six inches can mean the difference between an unacceptable color and a very pleasing color. Combined with fractures in the rock and pieces of the surrounding rock in the vein makes for very few carats of finished gemstones from pounds of rough material.

Ellensburg Blue Agate is a form of quartz called chalcedony. It is found as both a vein and a cavity filling being deposited from aqueous solutions. The cavity fillings tend to be more translucent than the veins. The veins tend to be more opaque with more inclusions.

It is believed the color comes from flowing through lava beds in the Kittitas Valley a million years ago. Researchers also believe that the blue color comes from refracted light from tiny particles in the stone, which is similar to why the sky is blue itself.

The Blue is primarily found in the Reecer Creek and Green Canyon areas but can also be found near Thorp and west toward Cle Elum. They are a product of the 47-million-year-old Teanaway Basalt.

“We’ve measured six or seven different locations, but there are a lot more locations around the world,” said Halfpenny, who is from Great Britain and been in the United States for four years. “What we’re doing is trying to understand how the mineral changes apply to science and develop a better understanding of each location.

The Ellensburg Blue is one of the rarest gems in the world and also referred as E-Blue.

Last year, the Washington State Legislature introduced House Bill 2757 summary to replace petrified wood with Ellensburg Blue Agate as the official state gem. The bill died in the Senate, but proponents hope to reintroduce the bill this legislative session.


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