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Assessment of significant sand resources in Federal and California State Waters of the San Francisco, Oceanside, and Silver Strand littoral cell study areas along the continental shelf of California

December 13, 2022

Executive Summary

The Sand Resources Project was established through collaborative agreements between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) with the purpose of evaluating sand and gravel resources in Federal and California State Waters for potential use in future beach-nourishment projects. Project partners worked in collaboration with California Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup (CSMW) members to define priority study areas for this work based on the potential for finding sand within the broader region and the needs for this sand as shown by beach erosion areas of concern in the adjacent littoral cells. The final study areas were defined to be (1) the San Francisco Littoral Cell, (2) the Oceanside Littoral Cell, and (3) the Silver Strand Littoral Cell.

A two-stage approach was used to assess the study areas. The initial stage was a synthesis of the existing geophysical and sediment-sampling data in each area. This allowed for evaluations of the data availability, data gaps, and general patterns of sediment thickness and grain size. This synthesis was published in a separate USGS open-file report (Warrick and others, 2022). The findings from this assessment were used to refine study area boundaries and develop sampling plans for stage two of the project.

Stage two of the project is the collection, processing, and synthesis of new data, including high-resolution geophysical surveys and sediment cores—this report addresses the second stage. The work focuses on two of the study areas—the San Francisco and the Oceanside Littoral Cells, where several research cruises have been conducted. A more limited, exploratory approach was used for the Silver Strand Littoral Cell, owing to the lack of existing high-resolution bathymetric data for this study area. The data collected provide new information about the three study areas, including sediment thickness, grain-size distributions, and total organic carbon.

Sediment in all three study areas of the Sand Resources Study was suitable for beach nourishment, as reflected by their grain-size distributions and sediment thicknesses. For example, sandy sediment in the San Francisco Littoral Cell study area was on and immediately outside of the ebb-tidal bar of the San Francisco Bay, a landform that has a strong influence on grain-size patterns of the region. The presence of thick sediment deposits in this area was interpreted to be a function of tectonics, which has caused physical features that include a graben north of the Golden Gate whose deposits were thicker and siltier than the remaining area. Sandy sediment on the inner and outer parts of the continental shelf in the Oceanside Littoral Cell may be useful for nourishment, whereas the midshelf between these areas was dominated by silty sediment. Sediment in the Silver Strand Littoral Cell, which was only sampled selectively, had the greatest potential for beach nourishment because of the greater prevalence of beach-comparable grain sizes, especially in the more distal and deeper areas where medium sands were found.

The Sand Resources Project did identify several sandy regions of the continental shelf that are deeper than dredging technologies currently (2022) available in the United States, which are generally limited to 30 meters (m) water depth or less. Although sandy sediment exists in all three study areas at water depths of 30 m or less, additional sediment supplies—most of which are in Federal Waters—are present in deeper settings, especially for the Oceanside and Silver Strand Littoral Cell study areas. Although the Silver Strand Littoral Cell study area was found to be considerably replete in sand resources, these conclusions are based on a limited sampling exercise across that study area. Thus, it may be beneficial to complete a more thorough characterization of the sediment resources in the Silver Strand Littoral Cell study area if it is determined that a need for sandy coastal sediment exists in this region.

As a result of the Sand Resources Project, several areas of sand resources in Federal and California State Waters were found where they were previously unknown. As such, this project may provide important data for future coastal-management decisions in California, and it should provide a model for future investigations of sediment resources in other regions of the State.

Publication Year 2022
Title Assessment of significant sand resources in Federal and California State Waters of the San Francisco, Oceanside, and Silver Strand littoral cell study areas along the continental shelf of California
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221095
Authors Jonathan A. Warrick, James E. Conrad, Antoinette Papesh, Tom Lorenson, Ray Sliter
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1095
Index ID ofr20221095
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center