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Open-File Report 02-316

Physical Data of Soil Profiles Formed on Late Quaternary Marine Terraces near Santa Cruz, California

By Jennie Munster and Jennifer W. Harden

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.2 MB)Introduction

The marine terraces in and around Santa Cruz, California, represent a set of well-preserved terraces formed as a product of geology, sea level, and climate. A marine terrace begins as a wave cut platform. Eustatic sea level changes, seacliff erosion, and tectonic uplift work together to generate marine terraces. "When a wave-cut platform is raised (due to tectonic activity) above sea level and cliffed by wave action it becomes a marine terrace" (Bradley, 1957, p. 424). During glacial periods, eustatic sea level is estimated to have dropped by 150 meters (Fairbanks, 1989). Cliff retreat measured from aerial photographs between 1930 and 1980 vary from 0.0 to 0.2 m yr–1 (Best and Griggs, 1991). Estimates of uplift rates along the Santa Cruz coastline vary from 0.10 to 0.48 m kyr–1 (Bradley and Griggs, 1976; Weber and others, 1999). Uplift mechanisms include coseismic uplift associated both with a reverse component of slip on the steeply SW dipping Loma Prieta fault in the restraining bend of the San Andreas Fault and a small component of reverse slip on the steeply SE dipping San Gregorio fault (Anderson and Menking 1994). Previous work studying physical properties on these terraces include Pinney and others (in press) and Aniku (1986) and Bowman and Estrada (1980).

Sedimentary deposits of the marine terraces are a mixture of terrestrial and marine sediments but generally consist of a sheet of marine deposits overlying the old platform and a wedge of nonmarine deposits banked against the old sea cliff (Bradley, 1957). Bedrock underlying the terraces in the Santa Cruz area is generally either Santa Margarita Sandstone or Santa Cruz Mudstone. The Santa Margarita Sandstone represents an upper Miocene, transgressive, tidally dominated marine-shelf deposit with crossbedded sets of sand and gravel and horizontally stratified and bioturbated invertebrate-fossils beds (Phillips, 1990). The siliceous Santa Cruz Mudstone, of late Miocene age, conformably overlies the Santa Margarita Sandstone. The Santa Cruz Mudstone is a thin to medium-bedded siliceous mudstone with nonsiliceous mudstone and siltstone and minor amounts of sandstone. The siliceous nature implies organic deposition in a quiescent, deep-water environment. Bedrock is mantled by 1–4 meters of medium to coarse-grained regressive beach sediment and fluvial deposits from the Ben Lomond Mountains.

Terrace age increases with elevation above sea level, and weathering of primary minerals increases with age. The suite of soils formed on the terraces is referred to as a soil chronosequence. Soil chronosequences, important tools in characterizing natural weathering rates, are defined as a group of soils that differ in age and therefore in duration of weathering but have similar climatic conditions, vegetation, geomorphic position, and parent material (Jenny, 1941; Birkland, 1999). Soils are frequently useful indicators of geomorphic age (Muhs, 1982; Switzer and others, 1988) and are a function of pedogenic and/or eolian processes. Some aspects of soil development can be episodic but when viewed on large time scales can be perceived as continuous (Switzer and others, 1988).

The age of the soil may be constrained by the age of the deposit, since soil formation generally commences when deposition has ceased (Birkland, 1999). Dating of the terraces provides an unprecedented opportunity to study weathering and soil-formation rates (Perg and others, 2001; Hanks and others, 1984; Bradley and Griggs, 1976; Bradley and Addicott, 1968; Bradley, 1956). Ages of the terraces recently dated by cosmogenic radionuclide are, starting with the youngest, 65, 92, 137, 139, and 226 k.y. (Perg and others, 2001). However, these ages are much younger than recent radiometric dates on mollusk shells (Muhs, U.S. Geological Survey, personal communication, 2002; Bradley and Addicott, 1968).

For this study, soils were sampled on five terraces. Terrace one in the Lighthouse Field along Westcliff in Santa Cruz was the last site selected, and this report contains minimal data on this terrace. Sites on the second, third, and fourth terraces are located in Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz, California. Site five is on private property north of Wilder Ranch. Careful consideration was taken in selecting field sites, choosing locations in a topographically flat area to avoid effects of erosion, and trying to keep parent material similar.

This report contains physical properties of the soil profiles on four of the five marine terraces near Santa Cruz, California, excluding the youngest terrace in all tables except 6 and 7. Data includes field descriptions, bulk density, grain size analyses, weight percent magnetic fraction, and the soil development index. Soil properties are important when trying to understand the chemistry of a given profile or when comparing profiles. Grain size constrains the movement of water in a profile, thus controlling movement of chemicals and weathering rates. Bulk density is a useful property to calculate chemical inventory. Quantifying the magnetic fraction aids in understanding the Fe inventory for these soils. The soil development index is a semi-quantitative way to define the degree of development of a soil profile. This is a useful way to compare development of profiles for this chronosequence or compare the Santa Cruz terraces to a suit of other terraces or another chronosequence.

First posted October 22, 2002

For additional information, contact:
California Volcano Observatory
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 910
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Munster, Jennie, Harden, Jennifer W., 2002, Physical Data of Soil Profiles Formed on Late Quaternary Marine Terraces near Santa Cruz, California: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-316, 28 pp.,

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