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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Anthropogenic Influence on Recent Bathymetric Change in West-Central San Francisco Bay


Two multibeam sonar surveys of west-central San Francisco Bay, California, were conducted in 1997 and 2008. Bathymetric change analysis between the two surveys indicates a loss of 14.1 million cubic meters (-3.1 cm/yr) of sediment during this time period, representing an approximately three-fold acceleration of the rate that was observed from prior depth change analysis from 1947 to 1979 for all of Central Bay, using more spatially coarse National Ocean Service (NOS) soundings. The portions of the overlapping survey areas between 1997 and 2008 designated as aggregate mining lease sites lost sediment at five times the rate of the remainder of west-central San Francisco Bay. Despite covering only 28% of the analysis area, volume change within leasing areas accounted for 9.2 million cubic meters of sediment loss, while the rest of the area lost 4.9 million cubic meters of sediment. The uncertainty of this recent analysis is more tightly constrained due to more stringent controls on vertical and horizontal position via tightly coupled, inertially aided differential Global Positioning Systems (GPS) solutions for survey vessel trajectory that virtually eliminate inaccuracies from traditional tide modeling and vessel motion artifacts. Further, quantification of systematic depth measurement error can now be calculated through comparison of static surfaces (e.g., bedrock) between surveys using seafloor habitat maps based on acoustic backscatter measurements and ground-truthing with grab samples and underwater video. Sediment loss in the entire San Francisco Bay Coastal System during the last half-century, as estimated from a series of bathymetric change studies, is 240 million cubic meters, and most of this is believed to be coarse sediment (i.e., sand and gravel) from Central Bay and the San Francisco Bar, which is likely to limit the sand supply to adjacent, open-coast beaches. This hypothesis is supported by a calibrated numerical model in a related study that indicates that there is a potential net export of sand-sized sediment across the Golden Gate, suggesting that a reduction in the supply of sand-sized sediment within west-central San Francisco Bay will limit transport to the outer coast.

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