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Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coastal Processes

Santa Barbara Littoral Cell Coastal Processes Study

Whereas coastal urban development and infrastructure are largely fixed with respect to location, shoreline and bluff positions can change substantially over time in response to natural processes. These natural coastal changes can damage or undermine urban structures, resulting in substantial property loss for federal, state, local and individual land owners. Urban development can also indirectly influence coastal change by interrupting natural supplies or transport of sediment in littoral cells. Thus, it is important to evaluate the rates, patterns and causes of coastal change to better manage sediment resources and predict change hazards in coastal urban settings.

study area
Santa Barbara Littoral Cell study area—click for larger version

The Santa Barbara and Ventura County coast represents a littoral cell along the California coast extending from (at least) Point Conception to the Mugu submarine canyon. The beaches along this littoral cell are an important economic resource to the region, and there is evidence that shoreline and bluff erosion are impacting these beaches. Coastal change in the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell region is complicated, however, by the irregular coastline (there are numerous rocky headlands, river deltas and offshore reefs), variability in wave forcing, structures such as harbors, groins, piers, dams and landscape urbanization, variability in tectonic uplift, and limited information on littoral sediment sources. In response to the potential for coastal change, BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment) and the City of Carpinteria have provided a combined funding for USGS PCMSC to evaluate the coastal change patterns and processes along the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell County coast.

Project Objective

Identify and quantify the pathways for nearshore sediment transport in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, with emphasis on critical regions of shoreline erosion.

Project Approach

Schematic of the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell study area, featuring topographic relief and bathymetry.
An oblique, 3-D look at the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell study area

Conduct a regional study of the Santa Barbara-Ventura County coast, complemented with three localized studies in areas of critical interest.  Work will be conducted with both state-of-the-art field and numerical modeling techniques.

Project Summary

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) are collaborating on a two-year project to identify and quantify the pathways for nearshore sediment transport for the coast within Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, California. Funding is scheduled to end December 2007.  However, the USGS anticipates a moderate level of funding from an internal Multihazards Initiative to continue to support coastal vulnerability analysis. Work described in this project is supported by BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment), the City of Carpinteria, and the United States Geological Survey. The work is conducted in collaboration with United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Los Angeles District.

The approach of the study has been regional, but with three areas chosen for focused, high resolution survey work:

  1. Goleta/Isla Vista/Ellwood
  2. Carpinteria
  3. Ventura/Santa Clara River mouths

Support and Collaboration

USGS Support

  • California Urban Oceans Project
  • Habitat Mapping Project
  • Coastal Evolution Modeling Project
  • Delft Hydraulics Cooperative

Academic Partners

  • University of California, Santa Cruz
  • San Francisco State University
  • University of Florida
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • California State University, Long Beach
  • University of Texas
  • California State University, Monterey Bay

Government Agencies

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Los Angeles District)
  • City of Carpinteria
  • California Department of Boating and Waterways
  • California State Parks
  • National Park Service
  • County of Santa Barbara
  • California Coastal Conservancy

Private Sector

  • Phillip Williams and Associates
  • SedCon Technologies


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