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Anthropogenic influences on shoreline and nearshore evolution in the San Francisco Bay coastal system

January 1, 2011

Analysis of four historical bathymetric surveys over a 132-year period has revealed significant changes to the morphology of the San Francisco Bar, an ebb-tidal delta at the mouth of San Francisco Bay estuary. From 1873 to 2005 the San Francisco Bar vertically-eroded an average of 80 cm over a 125 km2 area, which equates to a total volume loss of 100 ± 52 million m3 of fine- to coarse-grained sand. Comparison of the surveys indicates the entire ebb-tidal delta contracted radially, with the crest moving landward an average of 1 km. Long-term erosion of the ebb-tidal delta is hypothesized to be due to a reduction in the tidal prism of San Francisco Bay and a decrease in coastal sediment supply, both as a result of anthropogenic activities. Prior research indicates that the tidal prism of the estuary was reduced by 9% from filling, diking, and sedimentation. Compilation of historical records dating back to 1900 reveals that a minimum of 200 million m3 of sediment has been permanently removed from the San Francisco Bay coastal system through dredging, aggregate mining, and borrow pit mining. Of this total, ~54 million m3 of sand-sized or coarser sediment was removed from central San Francisco Bay. With grain sizes comparable to the ebb-tidal delta, and its direct connection to the bay mouth, removal of sediments from central San Francisco Bay may limit the sand supply to the delta and open coast beaches.

SWAN wave modeling illustrates that changes to the morphology of the San Francisco Bar have altered the alongshore wave energy distribution at adjacent Ocean Beach, and thus may be a significant factor in a persistent beach erosion ‘hot spot’ occurring in the area. Shoreline change analyses show that the sandy shoreline in the shadow of the ebb-tidal delta experienced long-term (1850s/1890s to 2002) and short-term (1960s/1980s to 2002) accretion while the adjacent sandy shoreline exposed to open-ocean waves experienced long-term and short-term erosion. Therefore, the recently observed accelerating rates of bay sediment removal, ebb-tidal delta erosion, and open coast beach erosion are all correlated temporally.

Publication Year 2011
Title Anthropogenic influences on shoreline and nearshore evolution in the San Francisco Bay coastal system
DOI 10.1016/j.ecss.2010.12.031
Authors K.L. Dallas, P.L. Barnard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Index ID 70034106
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center; San Francisco Bay-Delta