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Sediment accumulation on the Southern California Bight continental margin during the twentieth century

By
Clark R. Alexander
Clark R. Alexander
Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, Georgia 31411, USA
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Homa J. Lee
Homa J. Lee
U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
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Published:
January 01, 2009

Sediment discharged into the portion of the Southern California Bight extending from Santa Barbara to Dana Point enters a complex system of semi-isolated coastal cells, narrow continental shelves, submarine canyons, and offshore basins. On both the Santa Monica and San Pedro margins, 210Pb accumulation rates decrease in an offshore direction (from ~0.5 g cm−2yr−1 to 0.02 g cm−2yr−1), in concert with a fining in sediment grain size (from 4.5φ to 8.5φ), suggesting that offshore transport of wave-resuspended material occurs as relatively dilute nepheloid layers and that hemiplegic sedimentation dominates the supply of sediment to the outer shelf, slope, and basins. Together, these areas are effectively sequestering up to 100% of the annual fluvial input. In contrast to the Santa Monica margin, which does not display evidence of mass wasting as an important process of sediment delivery and redistribution, the San Pedro margin does provide numerous examples of failures and mass wasting, suggesting that intraslope sediment redistribution may play a more important role there. Basin deposits in both areas exhibit evidence of turbidites tentatively associated with both major floods and earthquakes, sourced from either the Redondo Canyon (San Pedro Basin) or Dume Canyon (Santa Monica Basin).

On the Palos Verdes shelf, sediment-accumulation rates decrease along and across the shelf away from the White's Point outfall, which has been a major source of contaminants to the shelf deposits. Accumulation rates prior to the construction of the outfall were ~0.2 g cm−2yr−1 and increased 1.5–3.7 times during peak discharges from the outfall in 1971. The distal rate of accumulation has decreased by ~50%, from 0.63 g cm−2yr−1 during the period 1971–1992 to 0.29 g cm−2yr−1 during the period 1992–2003. The proximal rate of accumulation, however, has only decreased ~10%, from 0.83 g cm−2yr−1 during the period 1971–1992 to 0.73 g cm−2yr−1 during the period 1992–2003. Effluent-affected sediment layers on the Palos Verdes shelf can be identified in seabed profiles of naturally occurring 238U, which is sequestered in reducing sediments.

The Santa Clara River shelf, just north and west of the Santa Monica and San Pedro margins, is fine-grained and flood-dominated. Core profiles of excess 210Pb from sites covering the extent of documented major flood deposition exhibit evidence of rapidly deposited sediment up to 25 cm thick. These beds are developing in an active depocenter in water depths of 30–50 m at an average rate of 0.72 g cm−2yr−1. Budget calculations for annual and 50-yr timescale sediment storage on this shelf shows that 20%–30% of the sediment discharge is retained on the shelf, leaving 70%–80% to be redistributed to the outer shelf, slope, Santa Barbara Basin, and Santa Monica Basin.

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GSA Special Papers

Earth Science in the Urban Ocean: The Southern California Continental Borderland

Homa J. Lee
Homa J. Lee
U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California, USA
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William R. Normark
William R. Normark
U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California, USA
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Geological Society of America
Volume
454
ISBN print:
9780813724546
Publication date:
January 01, 2009

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