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California State Waters Map Series — Offshore of Monterey, California

August 18, 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 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 bathymetry 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 subsurface geology.

The Offshore of Monterey map area in central California is located on the Pacific Coast, about 120 km south of San Francisco. Incorporated cities in the map area include Seaside, Monterey, Marina, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Sand City. The local economy receives significant resources from tourism, as well as from the Federal Government. Tourist attractions include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the many golf courses near Pebble Beach, and the area serves as a gateway to the spectacular scenery and outdoor activities along the Big Sur coast to the south. Federal facilities include the Army’s Defense Language Institute, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (operated by the Navy). In 1994, Fort Ord army base, located between Seaside and Marina, was closed; much of former army base land now makes up the Fort Ord National Monument, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. In addition, part of the old Fort Ord is now occupied by California State University, Monterey Bay.

The offshore part of the map area lies entirely within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of the nation’s largest marine sanctuaries. State beaches and parks within the map area include Fort Ord Dunes State Park and the Marina, Monterey, and Asilomar State Beaches, as well as Carmel River State Beach, which includes the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetland Natural Preserve. The map area also includes all or part of several State Marine Protected Areas, including the Carmel Pinnacles, Asilomar, and Lovers Point–Julia Platt State Marine Reserves, as well as the Carmel Bay, Pacific Grove Marine Gardens, Edward F. Ricketts, and Portuguese Ledge State Marine Conservation Areas.

The coastal zone in the map area is characterized by two distinct physiographies. From Marina to Monterey, sandy beaches are backed by a belt of sand dunes, as much as 30 to 40 m high and as wide as 8 km. The Salinas River supplies the sand for the beaches and dunes. Nearshore sediment transport is primarily to the south, in the southern Monterey littoral cell.

Along the Monterey peninsula, which lies at the north end of the rugged Santa Lucia Range, coastal relief is very different. The peninsula is characterized largely by low marine terraces that formed mostly on hard and relatively stable granitic bedrock. Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea is the longest continuous beach in this area; bedrock points and small pocket beaches characterize most of the rest of the peninsula. The Carmel River littoral cell extends along the coast from Point Pinos to Point Lobos (just south of the map area), including Carmel Beach; sediment transport is primarily to the south.

The granitic rocks that crop out so prominently along the Monterey peninsula make up part of the Salinian block, a crustal terrane that in this area lies west of the San Andreas Fault and east of the San Gregorio Fault. The strike-slip San Andreas Fault Zone, which lies just 26 km east of the map area, is the most important structure within the Pacific–North American transform plate boundary. The San Gregorio Fault, a secondary fault within the distributed plate boundary, cuts through (and is roughly aligned with) Carmel Canyon, a submarine canyon in the southwest corner of the map area that is part of the Monterey Canyon system. The San Gregorio Fault Zone is part of a fault system that is present predominantly in the offshore for about 400 km, from Point Conception in the south (where it is known as the Hosgri Fault) to Bolinas and Point Reyes in the north.

The offshore part of the map area primarily consists of relatively flat continental shelf, bounded on the west by the steep flanks of Carmel Canyon. Shelf width varies from 2 to 3 km in the southern part of the map area, near the mouth of Carmel Canyon, to 14 km in Monterey Bay. Bedrock beneath the shelf is overlain in many areas by variable amounts (0 to 16 m) of upper Quaternary shelf and nearshore sediments deposited as sea level fluctuated in the late Pleistocene. “Soft-induration,” unconsolidated sediment is the dominant (about 63 percent) habitat type on the continental shelf, followed by “hard-induration” rock and boulders (about 34 percent) and “mixed-induration” substrate (about 3 percent). At water depths of about 100 to 130 m, the shelf break approximates the shoreline during the sea-level lowstand of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 21,000 years ago.

Carmel Canyon and other parts of the Monterey Canyon system in the map area extend from the shelf break to water depths that reach 1,600 m. Most of the extensive incision of the shelf break and canyon flanks probably occurred during repeated Quaternary sea-level lowstands. The relatively straight floor of Carmel Canyon notably is aligned with the San Gregorio Fault Zone. Mixed hard-soft substrate is the most common (about 51 percent) habitat type in Carmel Canyon; hard bedrock and soft, unconsolidated sediment cover about 40 percent and 9 percent of canyon habitat, respectively.

This part of the central California coast is exposed to large North Pacific swells from the northwest throughout the year. Wave heights range from 2 to 10 m, the 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.

Benthic species observed in the map area are natives of 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.

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. An observable recovery of Humpback and Blue Whales has occurred in the area; both species are dependent on coastal upwelling to provide nutrients. 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 well-known habitat for the population of southern sea otters. Common fish species found in the kelp beds and rocky reefs include lingcod and various species of rockfish and greenling.

Publication Year 2016
Title California State Waters Map Series — Offshore of Monterey, California
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161110
Authors Samuel Y. Johnson, Peter Dartnell, Stephen R. Hartwell, Guy R. Cochrane, Nadine E. Golden, Janet Watt, Clifton W. Davenport, Rikk G. Kvitek, Mercedes D. Erdey, Lisa M. Krigsman, Ray W. Sliter, Katherine L. Maier
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2016-1110
Index ID ofr20161110
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center