San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
Literature Review of Unconsolidated Sediment in San Francisco Bay and Nearby Pacific Ocean Coast
- Author(s): Keller, Barry R.
- et al.
A review of the geologic literature regarding sedimentation in the San Francisco Bay estuarine system shows that the main part of the bay occupies a structural tectonic depression that developed in Pleistocene time. Eastern parts, including San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay, have had sedimentation throughout late Mesozoic and Tertiary. Carquinez Strait and the Golden Gate may represent antecedent stream erosion. Sedimentation has included estuarine, alluvial, and eolian deposition. The ages of estuarine deposition includes the modern high sea level stand and earlier Pleistocene interglacial periods. Sediment sources can be generally divided into the Coast Ranges, particularly the Franciscan Complex, and “Sierran.” Much of the estuarine system is floored by very fine sediment, with local areas of sand floor. Near the Golden Gate, sediment size decreases in both directions away from the deep channel. Bedforms include sand waves (submarine dunes), flat beds, and rock and boulders. These are interpreted in terms of dominant transport directions. Near the Golden Gate is an ebb-tidal delta on the outside (including San Francisco bar) and a flood-tidal delta on the inside (parts of Central Bay). The large tidal prism causes strong tidal currents, which in the upper part of the estuary are normally much stronger than river currents, except during large floods. Cultural influences have altered conditions, including hydraulic mining debris, blasting of rocks, dredging of navigation channels, filling of the bay, and commercial sand mining. Many of these have served to decrease the tidal prism, correspondingly decreasing the strength of tidal currents.