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Open-File Report 98-759

Sedimentation and Bathymetric Change in San Pablo Bay: 1856–1983

By Bruce E. Jaffe, Richard E. Smith, and Laura Zink Torresan

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A long-term perspective of erosion and deposition in San Francisco Bay is vital to understanding and managing wetland change, harbor and channel siltation, and other sediment-related phenomena such as particle and particle-associated substance (pollutants, trace metals, etc.) transport and deposition. A quantitative comparison of historical hydrographic surveys provides this perspective. This report presents results of such a comparison for San Pablo Bay, California. Six hydrographic surveys from 1856 to 1983 were analyzed to determine long-term changes in the sediment system of San Pablo Bay. Each survey was gridded using surface modeling software. Changes between survey periods were computed by differencing grids. Patterns and volumes of erosion and deposition in the Bay are derived from difference grids. More than 350 million cubic meters of sediment was deposited in San Pablo Bay from 1856 to 1983. This is equivalent to a Baywide accumulation rate of approximately 1 cm/yr. However, sediment deposition was not constant over time or throughout the Bay. Over two-thirds of that sediment was debris from hydraulic mining that accumulated from 1856 to 1887. During this period, deposition occurred in nearly the entire Bay. In contrast, from 1951 to 1983 much of the Bay changed from being depositional to erosional as sediment supply diminished and currents and waves continued to remove sediment from the Bay. The decrease in sediment supply is likely the result of upstream flood-control and water-distribution projects that have reduced peak flows, which are responsible for the greatest sediment transport. One consequence of the change in sedimentation was a loss of about half of the tidal flat areas from the late 1800's to the 1980's. Change in sedimentation must also have affected flow in the Bay, areas where polluted sediments were deposited, exchange of sediment between the nearshore and wetlands, and wave energy reaching the shoreline that was available to erode wetlands. Further work is needed. Studies of historical wetland change and the relationship between change and man-made and natural influences would be valuable for developing sound wetland management plans. Additionally, extending the historical hydrographic and wetland change analyses eastward into Suisun Bay will improve the understanding of the North Bay sediment system.

First posted March 7, 2003

The National Geologic Map Database has additional data about this publication

For additional information, contact:
Contact Information, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Science Center
400 Natural Bridges Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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Suggested citation:

Jaffe, Bruce E., Smith, Richard E., Torresan, Laura Zink, 1998, Sedimentation and Bathymetric Change in San Pablo Bay: 1856–1983: U. S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 98-759,

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