Western Coastal and Marine Geology

U.S. Geological Survey
Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5233

Wave-Driven Spatial and Temporal Variability in Sea-floor Sediment Mobility in the Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank, and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries

By Curt D. Storlazzi, Jane A. Reid, and Nadine E. Golden


Wave orbital ripples at a depth of 15 m in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary


Wind and wave patterns affect many aspects of continental shelves and shorelines geomorphic evolution. Although our understanding of the processes controlling sediment suspension on continental shelves has improved over the past decade, our ability to predict sediment mobility over large spatial and temporal scales remains limited. The deployment of robust operational buoys along the U.S. West Coast in the early 1980s provides large quantities of high-resolution oceanographic and meteorologic data. By 2006, these data sets were long enough to clearly identify long-term trends and compute statistically significant probability estimates of wave and wind behavior during annual and interannual climatic cycles (that is, El Niño and La Niña). Wave-induced sediment mobility on the shelf and upper slope off central California was modeled using synthesized oceanographic and meteorologic data as boundary input for the Delft SWAN model, sea-floor grain-size data provided by the usSEABED database, and regional bathymetry. Differences in waves (heights, periods, and directions) and winds (speeds and directions) between El Niño and La Niña months cause temporal and spatial variations in peak wave-induced bed shear stresses. These variations, in conjunction with spatially heterogeneous unconsolidated sea-floor sedimentary cover, result in predicted sediment mobility widely varying in both time and space. These findings indicate that these factors have significant consequences for both geological and biological processes.

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