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Sediment deposition, erosion, and bathymetric change in central San Francisco Bay: 1855-1979

December 23, 2008

Central San Francisco Bay is the hub of a dynamic estuarine system connecting the San Joaquin and Sacramento River Deltas, Suisun Bay, and San Pablo Bay to the Pacific Ocean and South San Francisco Bay. To understand the role that Central San Francisco Bay plays in sediment transport throughout the system, it is necessary to first determine historical changes in patterns of sediment deposition and erosion from both natural and anthropogenic forces.

The first extensive hydrographic survey of Central San Francisco Bay was conducted in 1853 by the National Ocean Service (NOS) (formerly the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS)). From 1894 to 1979, four additional surveys, composed of a total of approximately 700,000 bathymetric soundings, were collected within Central San Francisco Bay. Converting these soundings into accurate bathymetric models involved many steps. The soundings were either hand digitized directly from the original USCGS and NOS hydrographic sheets (H-sheets) or obtained digitally from the National Geophysical Data Center's (NGDC) Geophysical Data System (GEODAS) (National Geophysical Data Center, 1996). Soundings were supplemented with contours that were either taken directly from the H-sheets or added in by hand. Shorelines and marsh areas were obtained from topographic sheets. The digitized soundings, depth contours, shorelines, and marsh areas were entered into a geographic information system (GIS) and georeferenced to a common horizontal datum. Using surface modeling software, bathymetric grids with a horizontal resolution of 25 m were developed for each of the five hydrographic surveys. Before analyses of sediment deposition and erosion were conducted, interpolation bias was removed and all of the grids were converted to a common vertical datum. These bathymetric grids were then used to develop bathymetric change maps for subsequent survey periods and to determine long-term changes in deposition and erosion by calculating volumes and rates of net sediment change.

Central San Francisco Bay experienced periods of both deposition and erosion, but overall experienced a net gain in sediment from 1855 to 1979 of approximately 42x106 m3 (0.33x106 m3 / yr). Over this same time period, 92 percent of the tidal marsh and 69 percent of the intertidal mudflats were lost as human activity increased and the shorefront was developed. During the first time period, from 1855 to 1895, Central San Francisco Bay was erosional, losing roughly 2x106 m3 / yr of sediment. The next time period was depositional, with a net gain of approximately 3x106 m3 / yr of sediment from 1895 to 1947. The last time period, from 1947 to 1979, was erosional again, losing roughly 2x106 m3 / yr of sediment. Sedimentation patterns also varied spatially. The northern part of Central San Francisco Bay was depositional during all change periods while the eastern region alternated between erosional and depositional.

Central San Francisco Bay sedimentation patterns have also been strongly impacted by anthropogenic activities, such as dredging and dredge disposal, borrow pits, and sand mining. For example, bathymetric change at a borrow pit created near Bay Farm Island sometime between the 1947 and 1979 surveys indicates roughly 25x106 m3 of sediment was removed from the system

Publication Year 2008
Title Sediment deposition, erosion, and bathymetric change in central San Francisco Bay: 1855-1979
DOI 10.3133/ofr20081312
Authors Theresa A. Fregoso, Amy C. Foxgrover, Bruce E. Jaffe
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2008-1312
Index ID ofr20081312
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization San Francisco Bay-Delta