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California State Waters map series — Offshore of Aptos, California

March 23, 2016


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 California’s State Waters. The CSMP approach is to create highly detailed seafloor maps through collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar bathymetric data (the undersea equivalent of satellite remote-sensing data in terrestrial mapping), 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 subsurface geology.

The Offshore of Aptos map area is located on the Pacific Coast, on the north side of Monterey Bay, about 105 km southeast of San Francisco. The largest incorporated city in the map area, Capitola, and numerous unincorporated towns including Aptos, lie on uplifted marine terraces between the shoreline, and the northwest-trending Santa Cruz Mountains, part of California’s Coast Ranges. The map area includes the northernmost part of Santa Cruz Harbor, and Moss Landing Harbor is located about 10 km south of the map area. The offshore part of the map area is entirely within California’s State Waters and is also part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In the southern part of the map area, the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area extends eastward from the limit of California’s State Waters across Soquel Canyon.

The Offshore of Aptos map area is on the western margin of North American Plate—the only continental margin in the world delineated largely by transform faults. The San Andreas Fault Zone cuts through the Santa Cruz Mountains just 3.5 km northeast of the map area. The San Gregorio Fault Zone, another major plate-boundary structure, cuts through Monterey Canyon about 13 km southwest of the map area. Ongoing deformation associated with and between these major fault zones has uplifted the Santa Cruz Mountains and formed well-developed sets of marine terraces that characterize almost the entire coastal zone of the map area.

The offshore part of the map area consists of relatively flat and shallow continental shelf which is underlain by variable amounts (0 to 30 m) of upper Quaternary shelf, estuarine, and fluvial sediments deposited as sea level fluctuated in the late Pleistocene. Along the southern edge of the map area, the shelf is incised by the head of Soquel Canyon, a northeast-trending tributary to the west-trending Monterey Canyon. During the last sea-level lowstand (the Last Glacial Maximum [LGM], about 21,000 years ago) Soquel Creek flowed through a paleochannel across the emergent shelf into the head of Soquel Canyon. This canyon was disconnected from its onshore watershed during the post-LGM sea-level rise of about 125 m; the abandoned paleochannel was subsequently filled with marine sediment. Coastal sediment in the Offshore of Aptos map area is supplied by coastal watersheds and bluff erosion. Sediment transport in this part of the Santa Cruz littoral cell is primarily from the northwest to the southeast and terminates in the submarine Monterey Canyon. Longshore drift is impeded by jetties at Santa Cruz Harbor, resulting in high beach erosion rates east of the harbor. Sediment dredged from the harbor mouth (estimated 300,000 yds3/yr) is currently being used to nourish beaches directly to the east. Farther downcoast, the rapidly eroding beach at Capitola was stabilized by construction of an about 75-m-long groin.

This part of central California is exposed to large North Pacific swells from the northwest throughout the year. North Pacific swell heights range from 2 to 10 meters, with larger swells occurring from October to May. During El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, winter storms track farther south than they do in normal (non-ENSO) years, thereby impacting the map area more frequently and with waves of larger heights. Bedrock exposed in coastal cliffs is relatively erosion-resistant, and significant erosional events primarily are restricted to storm-wave activity that also erodes the overlying unconsolidated marine-terrace sediments.

The Offshore of Aptos map area lies within the cold-temperate biogeographic zone that is called either the “Oregonian” province or the “northern California ecoregion.” This biogeographic province is maintained by the long-term stability of the southward-flowing California Current, the eastern limb of the North Pacific subtropical gyre that flows from southern British Columbia to Baja California. At its midpoint off central California, the California Current transports subarctic surface (0–500 m deep) waters southward, about 150 to 1,300 km from shore. Seasonal northwesterly winds that are, in part, responsible for the California Current, generate coastal upwelling. The south end of the Oregonian province is at Point Conception (about 310 km southeast of the map area), although its associated phylogeographic group of marine fauna may extend beyond to the area offshore of Los Angeles in southern California. The ocean off of central California has experienced a warming over the last 50 years that is driving an ecosystem shift away from the productive subarctic regime towards a depopulated subtropical environment.

Seafloor habitats in the Offshore of Aptos map area lie within the “Shelf” Megahabitat class and include patchy rocky habitats, gravel-rich scour depressions, minor bedrock habitat, and predominantly sandy inner shelf. Sandy shelf habitats grade offshore to mud-dominated habitats on the midshelf in deeper water. Biological productivity resulting from coastal upwelling supports populations of Sooty Shearwater, Western Gull, Common Murre, Cassin’s Auklet, and many other less populous bird species. In addition, an observable recovery of Humpback and Blue Whales has occurred in the area; both species are dependent on coastal upwelling to provide nutrients. California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals are abundant in the map area. Common bottlenose dolphins are often observed very close to shore and in the surf zone. The large extent of exposed inner shelf bedrock supports large forests of “bull kelp,” which is well adapted for high-wave-energy environments. The kelp beds are the northernmost known habitat for the population of southern sea otters. Common fish species found in the kelp beds and rocky reefs include blue rockfish, black rockfish, olive rockfish, kelp rockfish, gopher rockfish, black-and-yellow rockfish, painted greenling, kelp greenling, and lingcod.


Publication Year 2016
Title California State Waters map series — Offshore of Aptos, California
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161025
Authors Guy R. Cochrane, Samuel Y. Johnson, Peter Dartnell, H. Gary Greene, Mercedes D. Erdey, Bryan E. Dieter, Nadine E. Golden, Stephen R. Hartwell, Andrew C. Ritchie, Rikk G. Kvitek, Katherine L. Maier, Charles A. Endris, Clifton W. Davenport, Janet Watt, Ray W. Sliter, David P. Finlayson, Lisa M. Krigsman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2016-1025
Index ID ofr20161025
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center