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Integration of bed characteristics, geochemical tracers, current measurements, and numerical modeling for assessing the provenance of beach sand in the San Francisco Bay Coastal System

February 1, 2013

Over 150 million m3 of sand-sized sediment has disappeared from the central region of the San Francisco Bay Coastal System during the last half century. This enormous loss may reflect numerous anthropogenic influences, such as watershed damming, bay-fill development, aggregate mining, and dredging. The reduction in Bay sediment also appears to be linked to a reduction in sediment supply and recent widespread erosion of adjacent beaches, wetlands, and submarine environments. A unique, multi-faceted provenance study was performed to definitively establish the primary sources, sinks, and transport pathways of beach-sized sand in the region, thereby identifying the activities and processes that directly limit supply to the outer coast. This integrative program is based on comprehensive surficial sediment sampling of the San Francisco Bay Coastal System, including the seabed, Bay floor, area beaches, adjacent rock units, and major drainages. Analyses of sample morphometrics and biological composition (e.g., Foraminifera) were then integrated with a suite of tracers including 87Sr/86Sr and 143Nd/144Nd isotopes, rare earth elements, semi-quantitative X-ray diffraction mineralogy, and heavy minerals, and with process-based numerical modeling, in situ current measurements, and bedform asymmetry to robustly determine the provenance of beach-sized sand in the region.