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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

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Merged into new project, 2011

The California Urban Ocean Project

Santa Barbara/Ventura Coastal Processes Study web site
Southern California Coastal Hazards web site

PCMSC Coastal Processes Studies


California is the most populous state in the union and has a particularly close relationship with its coastal ocean. Two of the five largest metropolitan areas in the nation border the sea and the local citizens are highly dependent upon the sea for recreation, commerce, security, navigation, and waste disposal. As a result of these activities, the ocean and beaches have become contaminated, the coastline has changed, channels and harbors have to be dredged, dredged material (likely contaminated) has to be disposed, and coastal and marine ecosystems have been impacted. Understanding man’s impact on the ocean and the ocean’s impact upon man in the urban setting of California requires a sound understanding of coastal and marine geologic and physical oceanographic processes. These processes act as a continuum affecting geologic particles and man-made materials all the way from their sources in the coastal mountains, plains and cities to their sinks in the continental margins. Along the path human activities change and are changed by the processes. Individual problems could be dealt with on a case by case basis but understanding the link between elements allows better management and planning. Also, following a source to sink approach in tracking particles and substances leads to a better understanding of the processes and the science of sediment transport. In fact, the presence of anthropogenic compounds in coastal sediment transport systems facilitates the tracking of particle movements, along the lines of a vast laboratory experiment.

Start/End Dates

10/1/2005 - 9/30/2011


Southern California


  • Jingping Xu, Project Chief
  • Patrick Barnard, Geologist
  • Brian Edwards, Geologist
  • Jim Hein, Geologist
  • Sam Johnson, Geologist
  • Mary McGann, Geologist
  • Marlene Noble, Oceanographer
  • Bob Rosenbauer, Geologist
  • Jon Warrick, Geologist
Map of Southern California showing study area


Our objective is an improved understanding of coastal and marine sediment and contaminant transport processes that have a direct impact on the citizens of California. We follow these processes from source regions, through waterways to coastal estuaries, onto the beaches and continental shelf, and into submarine canyons and basin/fans. These processes include:

  1. inputs through rivers and industrial facilities into estuaries or directly into the sea;
  2. the record of coastal change and the processes that lead to the erosion of beaches;
  3. the overall spatial and temporal distribution of currents that can resuspend and transport contaminants and contaminated sediment;
  4. the distribution of contaminants and contaminated sediment (including natural contaminants) and the record of how this distribution has changed with time; and
  5. the processes that remove sediment and contaminants from the shelf, into canyons and out on to the basins.

These problems are interrelated and benefit from an integrated approach. By pursuing these topics through a multidisciplinary project, we can share resources, integrate our scientific findings, and present a broad scientific view to the local constituents. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. In addition, this integrated approach leads to an understanding of the processes that formed the coastal zone as well as producing an improved description of the zone. Based on the improved understanding that is gained we will produce an updated synthesis of sediment and contaminant transport process within, and its impact to, the coastal and urban ocean areas of California.


This project will investigate sediment and contaminant transport processes in human-impacted areas following a source-to-sink perspective by

  1. looking at the origins of both sediment and contaminants,
  2. following the particles through the natural and anthropogenic systems until they are emplaced in a sedimentary deposit, and
  3. assessing the potential for subsequent remobilization and interaction with the human and natural environment.

We work along the lines of the NSF supported MARGINS project except our environments are near cities and our systems have been changed by man. Our ultimate goal is to understand the relationship of sediment and contaminant transport systems with human and environmental health. We leverage external interests to support much of our field work and data analysis and use appropriated funding to fill in gaps in the externally-supported work to develop comprehensive regional knowledge and models. The current focus of this effort is on southern and central California in an effort to

  1. respond to demonstrated stakeholder interest and leverage stakeholder support,
  2. effectively build upon existing data and knowledge developed by the CMGP and partners, and
  3. address critical issues in one of the most heavily impacted coastal areas of the United States.

The project is organized to follow a path through the different components of a source-to-sink system. We consider first the sources of sediment and contaminants on land (Task 2), next estuaries (Task 3), coastal systems (Task 4) and continental shelves (Task 5) and finally canyon/fan systems (sinks, Task 7). Task 6 considers contaminants, their distribution, inventories, budgets, and impact on ecosystems. We have at least one subtask within each component. The choice of which subtask(s) to pursue is based on interest in the local communities, availability of external funds, potential for external funds, and scientific significance. We believe it is important to pursue work in all components because this allows us to deal with the transitions from one system to the next and consider all aspects of sediment and contaminant budgeting. Also, in this way, we can work with external groups in all areas and be able to draw upon their expertise when we ultimately develop synthesis products at the end of the project. In some areas, local expertise and available resources are particularly extensive (e.g., contaminant levels and effects), and we can design our own work so as to maximize its usefulness and impact. This project provides potential for leveraging with developing objectives of the Coastal Ecosystems near-term priority of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP). In particular, the project addresses the priority: "Forecasting the Response of Coastal Ecosystems to Persistent Forcing and Extreme Events." Task 9, which is an element of the Southern California Multi-Hazard demonstration project, is oriented toward predicting the response of coasts to extreme storm events and Task 5 is, in part, directed at predicting the response of sediment and contaminant transport systems to storms, internal waves, and large-scale currents.

Tasks and SubTasks

  • Regional synthesis
    • Documentation of Southern California Coastal and Marine Geology Regional Investigations
    • Documentation of the Coastal Aquifer and Stratigraphic Architecture
    • California Urban Ocean Synthesis
  • Sediment and Contaminant Inputs to the Urban Ocean
    • California Mud Budget
    • Nearshore Fate and Transport of Fine Sediment
  • Urban Estuary Processes: San Gabriel River Estuary Water Quality Model (completed 2008)
  • Coastal Change in the California Urban Ocean
  • Sediment and Contaminant Transport on the Continental Shelf
    • Suspension and Transport of DDT-affected Sediment on the Palos Verdes Shelf
    • SCCOOS Huntington Beach Nearshore Cross-Shelf Transport Study
    • Transport Patterns for Suspended Material in Northern San Padro Bay
  • Contaminant budgets and impacts
    • Southern California Bight-wide Contamination Studies
    • Ecosystem Health
    • Metal and mineral fluxes in the southern California borderland
  • Turbidity Currents, Canyon Processes, and Basin Development
    • Turbidity Currents in Monterey and Soquel Canyons
    • Sediment and Contaminant Sinks in Urban Basins
    • Sediment/contaminants transport through Hueneme and Mugu canyons
    • Geologic framework of the heads of Mugu and Hueneme submarine canyons
  • Coastal change in the Urban Earth: Component of a Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project in Southern California
    Photo of San Gabriel River
San Gabriel River, Southern California

Products, Results, and Publications

Santa Barbara/Ventura Coastal Processes Study web site

Southern California Coastal Hazards web site

The California Urban Ocean Project was formerly known as the Southern California Coastal and Marine Geology Regional Investigations (CABRILLO) Project, from 5/1/1996 - 9/30/2005, and is no longer maintained at

Barnard, P.L., O'Reilly, B., van Ormondt, M., Elias, E., Ruggiero, P., Erikson, L.H., Hapke, C., Collins, B.D., Guza, R.T., Adams, P.N., Thomas, J.T., 2009. The framework of a coastal hazards model: a tool for predicting the impact of severe storms. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1073, 21 pp.

Barnard, P.L., Revell, D.L., Eshleman, J.L. and Mustain, N., 2007. Carpinteria Coastal Processes Study, 2005-2007: Final Report. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1217, 130 pp.,

Barnard, P.L., Revell, D.L., Hoover, D., Warrick, J., Brocatus, J., Draut, A.E., Dartnell, P., Elias, E., Mustain, N., Hart, P.E. and Ryan, H.F., 2009. Coastal processes study of Santa Barbara and Ventura County, California: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1029, 904 pp.

Barnard, P.L., Rubin, D.M., Harney, J. and Mustain, N., 2007. Field test comparison of an autocorrelation technique for determining grain size using a digital "beachball" camera versus traditional methods. Sedimentary Geology, Volume 201, Number 1-2, p. 180-195, doi:10.1016/j.sedgeo.2007.05.016

Elias, E., Barnard, P.L. and Brocatus, J., 2009. Littoral transport rates in the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell; a process-based model analysis. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 56, 5 pp.

Lee, H.J., and Normark, W.R., eds., 2009, Earth Science in the Urban Ocean: The Southern California Continental Borderland: GSA Special Papers 454 and Prologue: doi:10.1130/2009.2454(00)

Mustain, N., Griggs, G. and Barnard, P.L., 2007. A rapid compatibility analysis of potential offshore sand sources for beaches of the Santa Barbara littoral cell. In: Kraus, N.C., Rosati, J.D. (eds.), Coastal Sediments '07, Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Coastal Engineering and Science of Coastal Sediment Processes, American Society of Civil Engineers, New Orleans, LA, Volume 3, p. 2501-2514

Revell, D.L, Barnard, P.L., Mustain, N. and Storlazzi, C.D., 2008. Influence of harbor construction on downcoast morphological evolution, Santa Barbara, California. Solutions to Coastal Disasters Conference Proceedings, American Society of Civil Engineers, 13 pp.

Revell, D.L., and Griggs, G.B., 2006. Beach width and climate oscillations along Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, California. Shore and Beach, Volume 74, Number 3, p. 8-16.

Revell, D.L. and Griggs, G.B., 2007. Regional shoreline and beach changes in the Santa Barbara sandshed. In: Kraus, N.C., Rosati, J.D. (eds.), Coastal Sediments '07, Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Coastal Engineering and Science of Coastal Sediment Processes, American Society of Civil Engineers, New Orleans, LA, Volume 3, 14 pp.

Project Customers

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)/POC: Carman, White
  • Los Angeles County Department of Public Works/POC: Sim, Youn
  • Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts/POC: Meistrell, Joe
  • Orange County Sanitation District/POC: Robertson, George
  • BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment)/POC: Comati, Gerald
  • California Department of Boating and Waterways/POC: Sterrett, Kiim
  • City of Carpinteria/POC: Roberts, Matthew
  • Southern California Coastal Water Research Project/POC: Stein, Eric
  • Southern California Water Replenishment District/POC: Johnson, Ted
  • California/California State University Long Beach/POC: Behl, Richard
  • California State University Foundation/California State University at Monterey Bay/POC: Kvitek, Rikk
  • Geological Survey of Canada/POC: Piper, David
  • Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts/POC: Montagne, David
  • Minerals Management Service (MMS)/POC: Mayerson, Drew
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute/POC: Paull, Charles
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute/POC: Johnson, Joel
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/Center for Coastal Monitoring & Assessement/POC: Hartwell, Ian
  • Orange County Sanitation District/POC: Robertson, George
  • City of Carpinteria, CA/POC: Roberts, Matt
  • Skidaway Institute of Oceanography/POC: Alexander, Clark
  • Southern California Coastal Water Research Project/POC: Weisberg, Stephen
  • Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP)/POC: Schiff, Ken
  • Scripps Institute of Oceanography/actually, it's Scripps Institution of Oceanography/POC: Maters, Patricia
  • Scripps Institute of Oceanography/POC: Inman, Douglas
  • Scripps Institute of Oceanography/POC: O'Reilly, Bill
  • Scripps Institute of Oceanography/POC: Guza, Bob
  • Stanford University/POC: Graham, Stephan
  • Stanford University/POC: Erohina, Tzvetie
    Exchanges In-kind Services - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)/POC: LA District
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)/POC: Shak, Arthur
  • University of California, Santa Barbara/Crustal Studies Institute/POC: Nicholson, Craig
  • University of California, Santa Cruz/POC: Griggs, Gary
  • University of Southern California/POC: Jones, Burton


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