Since the California Gold Rush of 1849, sediment deposition, erosion, and the bathymetry of South San Francisco Bay have been altered by both natural processes and human activities. Historical hydrographic surveys can be used to assess how this system has evolved over the past 150 years. The National Ocean Service (NOS) (formerly the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS), collected five hydrographic surveys of South San Francisco Bay from 1858 to 1983. Analysis of these surveys enables us to reconstruct the surface of the bay floor for each time period and quantify spatial and temporal changes in deposition, erosion, and bathymetry.
The creation of accurate bathymetric models involves many steps. Sounding data was obtained from the original USCGS and NOS hydrographic sheets and were supplemented with hand drawn depth contours. Shorelines and marsh areas were obtained from topographic sheets. The digitized soundings and shorelines were entered into a Geographic Information System (GIS), and georeferenced to a common horizontal datum. Using surface modeling software, bathymetric grids with a horizontal resolution of 50 m were developed for each of the five hydrographic surveys. Prior to conducting analyses of sediment deposition and erosion, we converted all of the grids to a common vertical datum and made adjustments to correct for land subsidence that occurred from 1934 to 1967. Deposition and erosion that occurred during consecutive periods was then computed by differencing the corrected grids. From these maps of deposition and erosion, we calculated volumes and rates of net sediment change in the bay.
South San Francisco Bay has lost approximately 90 x 106 m3 of sediment from 1858 to 1983; however within this timeframe there have been periods of both deposition and erosion. During the most recent period, from 1956 to 1983, sediment loss approached 3 x 106 m3/yr. One of the most striking changes that occurred from 1858 to 1983 was the conversion of more than 80% of the tidal marsh to salt ponds, agricultural, and urban areas. In addition, there has been a decline of approximately 40% in intertidal mud flat area. Restoration of these features will require a detailed understanding of the morphology and sediment sources of this complex system.