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Controls on sediment distribution in the coastal zone of the central California transform continental margin, USA

November 19, 2019

We use >10,000 km of high-resolution seismic-reflection data together with multibeam bathymetry to document complex and highly variable post-Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) sediment distribution and thickness in the coastal zone (~10 m isobath to 5.6 km offshore) along a ~800 km section of central California's transform continental margin. Sediment thickness ranges from 0 (seafloor bedrock) to 64 m with a mean of 8.7 m. We delineate 25 coastal zone “sediment domains,” and group them based on common geomorphology and sediment occurrence. Thickest sediment occurs in “mountain front” and “large river” domains, which comprise 14.5% and 7.9% of the coastal zone and contain 30.1% and 18.2% of coastal zone sediment, respectively. In contrast, “small river” domains and “sediment-poor shelf” domains comprise 50.7% and 15.7% of the coastal zone and contain 18.4% and 12.7% of its sediment.

The distribution and thickness of post-LGM sediment in the coastal zone is controlled by a combination of tectonics, sediment supply, and eustasy. Sediment is derived from a tectonically controlled coastal landscape of rapidly uplifting mountain fronts, more slowly uplifting marine terraces, and fault-bounded headlands and alluvial-estuarine troughs. Sediment supply is maximized along steep, landslide-prone, mountain fronts and at the mouths of large watersheds, and minimized along lower-relief, terraced coastal landscape drained by smaller rivers and creeks. In the offshore coastal zone, tectonics generates local uplifts and basins, and influences shelf width and gradient as well as the locations of some shelf-incised submarine canyons. Sea-level rise raises base level, drowns estuaries, creates accommodation space on the shelf (amount based on gradient), and isolates the heads of many submarine canyons at or near the shelfbreak. Comparison of shelf sediment volumes with estimates of “unaltered” watershed sediment supply reveals that a relatively small proportion of post-LGM sediment supply is preserved on the shelf offshore of some of the largest rivers. Sediments deposited in shoreline and shelf environments have limited preservation potential, and the most complete long-term geologic record of the post-LGM transgression and highstand is likely represented in slope and submarine fan deposits.

Publication Year 2020
Title Controls on sediment distribution in the coastal zone of the central California transform continental margin, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2019.106085
Authors Samuel Y. Johnson, Jeffrey W. Beeson, Janet Watt, Ray Sliter, Antoinette Papesh
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70207299
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center