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California State Waters Map Series: Offshore of Coal Oil Point, California

August 8, 2014

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 Coal Oil Point 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 2.0 mm/yr) that are based on studies of onland marine terraces provide further evidence of significant shortening.

The cities of Goleta and Isla Vista, the main population centers in the map area, are in the western part of a contiguous urban area that extends eastward through Santa Barbara to Carpinteria. This urban area is on the south flank of the east-west-trending Santa Ynez Mountains, on coalescing alluvial fans and uplifted marine terraces underlain by folded and faulted Miocene bedrock. In the map area, the relatively low-relief, elevated coastal bajada narrows from about 2.5 km wide in the east to less than 500 m wide in the west. Several beaches line the actively utilized coastal zone, including Isla Vista County Park beach, Coal Oil Point Reserve, and Goleta Beach County Park. The beaches are subject to erosion each winter during storm-wave attack, and then they undergo gradual recovery or accretion during the more gentle wave climate of the late spring, summer, and fall months.

The Offshore of Coal Oil Point map area lies in the central part of the Santa Barbara littoral cell, which is characterized by littoral drift to the east-southeast. Longshore drift rates have been reported to range from about 160,000 to 800,000 tons/yr, averaging 400,000 tons/yr. 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) Las Llagas Canyon, Gato Canyon, Las Varas Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Tecolote Canyon, Winchester Canyon, Ellwood Canyon, Glen Annie Canyon, and San Jose Creek. The Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Rivers, the mouths of which are about 100 to 140 km northwest of the map area, are not significant sediment sources because Point Conception and Point Arguello provide obstacles to downcoast sediment transport and also because much of their sediment load is trapped in dams. The Ventura and Santa Clara Rivers, the mouths of which are about 45 to 55 km southeast of the map area, 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 0.8° to 1.0°) so that water depths at the shelf break, roughly coincident with the California’s State Waters limit, are about 90 m. 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 marine and fluvial sediments deposited as sea level fluctuated in the late Pleistocene.

The large (130 km2) Goleta landslide complex lies along the shelf break in the southern part of the map area. This compound slump complex may have been initiated more than 200,000 years ago, but it also includes three recent failures that may have been generated between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. A local, 5- to 10-m-high tsunami may have been generated from these failure events.

The map area has had a long history of hydrocarbon development, which began in 1928 with discovery of the Ellwood oil field. Subsequent discoveries in the offshore include South Ellwood offshore oil field, Coal Oil Point oil field, and Naples oil and gas field. Development of South Ellwood offshore field began in 1966 from platform “Holly,” the last platform to be installed in California’s State Waters. The area also is known for “the world’s most spectacular marine hydrocarbon seeps,” and large tar seeps are exposed on beaches east of the mouth of Goleta Slough. Offshore seeps adjacent to South Ellwood oil field release about 40 tons per day of methane and about 19 tons per day of ethane, propane, butane, and higher hydrocarbons.

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 Coal Oil Point map area are directly related to its Quaternary geologic history, geomorphology, and active sedimentary processes. These potential habitats, which lie primarily within the Shelf (continental shelf) but also partly within the Flank (basin flank or continental slope) megahabitats, 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 2014
Title California State Waters Map Series: Offshore of Coal Oil Point, California
DOI 10.3133/sim3302
Authors Samuel Y. Johnson, Peter Dartnell, Guy R. Cochrane, Nadine E. Golden, Eleyne L. Phillips, Andrew C. Ritchie, Rikk G. Kvitek, Bryan E. Dieter, James E. Conrad, T.D. Lorenson, Lisa M. Krigsman, H. Gary Greene, Charles A. Endris, Gordon G. Seitz, David P. Finlayson, Ray W. Sliter, Florence L. Wong, Mercedes D. Erdey, Carlos I. Gutierrez, Ira Leifer, Mary M. Yoklavich, Amy E. Draut, Patrick E. Hart, Frances D. Hostettler, Kenneth E. Peters, Keith A. Kvenvolden, Robert J. Rosenbauer, Grace Fong
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Map
Series Number 3302
Index ID sim3302
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center