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California State Waters Map Series: Offshore of Santa Barbara, California

January 1, 2013

In 2007, the California Ocean Protection Council initiated the California Seafloor Mapping Program (CSMP), designed to create a comprehensive seafloor map of high-resolution bathymetry, marine benthic habitats, and geology within the 3-nautical-mile limit of California’s State Waters. The CSMP approach is to create highly detailed seafloor maps through collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar data, acoustic backscatter, seafloor video, seafloor photography, high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles, and bottom-sediment sampling data. The map products display seafloor morphology and character, identify potential marine benthic habitats, and illustrate both the surficial seafloor geology and shallow (to about 100 m) subsurface geology.

The Offshore of Santa Barbara map area lies within the central Santa Barbara Channel region of the Southern California Bight. This geologically complex region forms a major biogeographic transition zone, separating the cold-temperate Oregonian province north of Point Conception from the warm-temperate California province to the south. The map area is in the southern part of the Western Transverse Ranges geologic province, which is north of the California Continental Borderland. Significant clockwise rotation—at least 90°—since the early Miocene has been proposed for the Western Transverse Ranges province, and geodetic studies indicate that the region is presently undergoing north-south shortening. Uplift rates (as much as 2.2 mm/yr) that are based on studies of onland marine terraces provide further evidence of significant shortening.

The city of Santa Barbara, the main coastal population center in the map area, is part of a contiguous urban area that extends from Carpinteria to Goleta. This urban area was developed on the coalescing alluvial surfaces, uplifted marine terraces, and low hills that lie south of the east-west-trending Santa Ynez Mountains. Several beaches line the actively utilized Santa Barbara coastal zone, including Arroyo Burro Beach Park, Leadbetter Beach, East Beach, and “Butterfly Beach.” There are ongoing coastal erosion problems associated with both development and natural processes; between 1933–1934 and 1998, cliff erosion in the map area occurred at rates of about 0.1 to 1 m/yr, the largest amount (63 m) occurring at Arroyo Burro in the western part of the map area. In addition, development of the Santa Barbara Harbor, which began in 1928, lead to shoaling west of the harbor as the initial breakwater trapped sand, as well as to coastal erosion east of the harbor. Since 1959, annual harbor dredging has mitigated at least some of the downcoast erosion problems.

The Offshore of Santa Barbara map area lies in the central part of the Santa Barbara littoral cell, which is characterized by littoral drift to the east-southeast. Drift rates have been estimated to be about 400,000 tons/yr at Santa Barbara Harbor. Sediment supply to the western and central parts of the littoral cell, including the map area, is largely from relatively small transverse coastal watersheds. Within the map area, these coastal watersheds include (from east to west) San Ysidro Creek, Oak Creek, Montecito Creek, Sycamore Creek, Mission Creek, Arroyo Burro, and Atascadero Creek. The Ventura and Santa Clara Rivers, the mouths of which are about 40 to 50 km southeast of Santa Barbara, are much larger sediment sources. Still farther east, eastward-moving sediment in the littoral cell is trapped by Hueneme and Mugu Canyons and then transported to the deep-water Santa Monica Basin.

The offshore part of the map area consists of a relatively flat and shallow continental shelf, which dips gently seaward (about 0.4° to 0.8°) so that water depths at the 3-nautical-mile limit of California’s State Waters are about 45 m in the east and about 75 m in the west. This part of the Santa Barbara Channel is relatively well protected from large Pacific swells from the north and northwest by Point Conception and from the south and southwest by offshore islands and banks. The shelf is underlain by variable amounts of upper Quaternary shelf, estuarine, and fluvial sediments deposited as sea level fluctuated in the late Pleistocene.

Seafloor habitats in the broad Santa Barbara Channel region consist of significant amounts of soft sediment and isolated areas of rocky habitat that support kelp-forest communities nearshore and rocky-reef communities in deep water. The potential marine benthic habitat types mapped in the Offshore of Santa Barbara map area are directly related to its Quaternary geologic history, geomorphology, and active sedimentary processes. These potential habitats, which lie within the Shelf (continental shelf) megahabitat, range from soft, unconsolidated sediment to hard sedimentary bedrock. This heterogeneous seafloor provides promising habitat for rockfish, groundfish, crabs, shrimp, and other marine benthic organisms.

Publication Year 2013
Title California State Waters Map Series: Offshore of Santa Barbara, California
DOI 10.3133/sim3281
Authors Samuel Y. Johnson, Peter Dartnell, Guy R. Cochrane, Nadine E. Golden, Eleyne L. Phillips, Andrew C. Ritchie, H. Gary Greene, Lisa M. Krigsman, Rikk G. Kvitek, Bryan E. Dieter, Charles A. Endris, Gordon G. Seitz, Ray W. Sliter, Mercedes D. Erdey, Carlos I. Gutierrez, Florence L. Wong, Mary M. Yoklavich, Amy E. Draut, Patrick E. Hart, James E. Conrad, Susan A. Cochran
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Map
Series Number 3281
Index ID sim3281
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center