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USGS/DOI Santa Barbara Channel Workshop Held March 26-27, 2008, in Santa Cruz, California

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Santa Barbara Channel area
Above: Santa Barbara Channel area. [larger version]

Color-coded backscatter values offshore Coal Oil Point.
Above: Color-coded backscatter values offshore Coal Oil Point. (Enlarged scale and Coal Oil Point label added for greater visibility.) [larger version]

buildings on edge of cliff
Above: Rising sea level associated with climate change could exacerbate coastal-erosion problems. [larger version]

Matilija Dam
Above: Matilija Dam in the upper part of the Ventura River watershed is slated for removal. Photograph by Paul Jenkin, Matilija Coalition. [larger version]

Santa Barbara's West Beach and Stearns Wharf
Above: Santa Barbara has recently had significant issues with beach health. This image shows Santa Barbara's West Beach and Stearns Wharf. Copyright (C) 2002-2008 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project. [larger version]

Sea otters
Above: Sea otters and certain seabirds are important "sentinels" of ecosystem health. Photograph of southern sea otters courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [larger version]

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), hosted a USGS/DOI workshop focused on coastal and ocean science in the Santa Barbara Channel. Held at the USGS Pacific Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, on March 26-27, 2008, the workshop attracted 45 participants, including representatives from several DOI bureaus—the USGS, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)—as well as State agencies and academia. The Santa Barbara Channel is a DOI focus because of ongoing offshore oil production in Federal waters (MMS), the presence of endangered species (FWS), Channel Islands National Park (NPS), the California State Waters Mapping Program (USGS), important coastal-zone-management issues, and numerous Federal, State, and local stakeholders. The goals of the workshop included the following:

  • Communicate and provide updates on active research efforts
  • Share data and improve coordination of responses to information requests
  • Learn about DOI science needs and the DOI Ocean Action Plan
  • Share information on coastal-zone-management issues and stakeholders, including the West Coast Governors' Agreement on Ocean Health
  • Strategize on how to maximize the scientific impact of current work
  • Identify and develop new multidisciplinary-research opportunities and collaborations consistent with the USGS Science Strategy
  • Discuss expanded collaboration in the Southern California Bight

The workshop featured 26 presentations organized in six sessions: (1) Introduction; (2) Geologic, Sea-Floor, and Habitat Mapping; (3) Coastal Watersheds; (4) the Nearshore Coastal Zone; (5) Island Ecosystems; and (6) the Coastal Ocean. Several major multidisciplinary themes were raised and reinforced repeatedly throughout the workshop; they are summarized below.

Important DOI/Federal land-management responsibilities are numerous in the Santa Barbara ChannelDOI has specific land-management responsibilities in the Santa Barbara Channel because of Channel Islands National Park (NPS), ongoing petroleum production and infrastructure in Federal waters (MMS), and responsibilities for managing and monitoring endangered species (FWS). The Santa Barbara Channel is also host to Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). No other part of the densely populated Southern California Bight has this DOI/Federal land-management focus. This Federal role commonly requires scientific information to inform decision making, and the USGS has a long history of partnering with other Federal agencies to conduct scientific work in the Santa Barbara Channel. Given increasing environmental stress due to onland development, climate change, and significant natural hazards, the scientific role of the USGS should continue to grow in this area.

The Santa Barbara Channel area is a natural laboratory—For the workshop, we defined the "Santa Barbara Channel" as extending from the steep Santa Ynez Mountains on the north to the Channel Islands and adjacent continental shelf on the south, and from Point Conception on the west to Mugu Submarine Canyon (about 20 km east of Anacapa Island) on the east. This highly dynamic landscape is characterized by diverse ecosystems, intensive resource management, varying human impacts, and dense population centers. It is thus an ideal and stimulating place to conduct investigations of the links between ecosystems, hazards, climate change, wildlife and human health, natural-resource management (water, mineral, wildlife), and landscape-scale human impacts.

Scientific partnerships and collaboration are extremely important—Maximizing the impact of scientific studies in the Santa Barbara Channel area will require developing and maintaining long-term relationships with other active and ongoing scientific efforts.

Coastal watersheds have significant impacts on the coastal ocean—Given the varying geomorphology and land-use practices described above, the Santa Barbara Channel is an ideal place to study the impacts of coastal watersheds on the coastal ocean.

USGS mapping provides an important multidisciplinary opportunity—The USGS Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team (WCMG) is in the middle of a significant mapping campaign in the Santa Barbara Channel. This important effort will result in several map folios, including map sheets and geographic-information-system (GIS) layers that show high-resolution bathymetry, bathymetric perspective views, backscatter (the strength of sound energy reflected by the sea floor, which yields information about sea-floor composition), sea-floor characteristics, ground-truthing imagery of the sea floor, benthic habitats, and shallow stratigraphy and structural geology as revealed by seismic-reflection data. Other USGS disciplines have an opportunity to add to this landmark effort by contributing additional spatial data, such as land-use data from geographers and information about flora and fauna from biologists.

Climate change may significantly affect humans and ecosystems in the Santa Barbara Channel—Potential changes in ocean temperature, upwelling, and currents will likely affect basal marine food webs and upper-trophic-level predators. Sea-level rise will likely result in increased coastal erosion, beach loss, increased inundation from coastal storms, wetland loss and degradation, and associated negative impacts on nearshore marine and adjacent terrestrial ecosystems. Potential changes in rainfall (and important coastal moisture from fog) could significantly affect water availability and terrestrial-ecosystem function. Changes in local and regional rainfall patterns and local ground-water levels are all expected to result from climate change. Forecasts and modeling of these impacts, which link processes across geographic and temporal scales, are needed to inform public planning and policy.

Removal of Matilija Dam presents an important scientific opportunity—Matilija Dam in the Ventura River watershed is slated for decommissioning and removal in the next 3-5 years. The dam currently serves no practical purpose, and the lake behind the dam is almost completely filled with sediment. Investigation and monitoring of this dam removal is an important opportunity because (1) anticipated increased sediment loads may affect watershed and coastal ecosystems, and (2) the pace of dam removal in the Western United States is expected to grow significantly in coming years, and policy makers will need information to develop science-based forecasts of dam-removal impacts. Designing a coordinated research plan will require significant collaboration with numerous agencies and entities: the FWS, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service, Regional Water Quality Boards and Water Districts, and local county and city governments.

Beach health and the role of submarine-ground-water discharge are important issues—Beach closures and warnings triggered by high bacterial levels are becoming increasingly common in the Santa Barbara Channel area and elsewhere. USGS multidisciplinary studies can help determine the relative importance of such factors as shorebirds, submarine ground-water discharge, sewage infrastructure, and coastal circulation.

Multidisciplinary science is needed to understand and manage ocean ecosystems—The USGS can bring a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to understanding marine ecosystems, collecting and synthesizing important information about physical, chemical, and biological/ecological processes. Some specific issues that the USGS could address are:

  • More detailed understanding of marine food webs
  • Monitoring of selected "sentinel species," such as sea otters and certain seabirds, to understand and model the impacts of contaminants, pathogens, and natural oil and gas seeps
  • Monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness and connectivity of Marine Protected Areas
  • Development of statistical approaches that relate biota to benthic habitats
  • Understanding the viral, bacterial, and parasite ecology links to physical and biological systems
  • Biologic importance of systems that deliver sediment and contaminants from watersheds to the coastal ocean (for example, hyperpycnal [density driven] flows)
  • Fate of sediment and contaminant loads in the coastal ocean, including the importance of submarine canyons as "sinks"
  • Determination of baseline prehistoric sediment and contaminant loads to evaluate human impacts, incorporating high-resolution dating
  • Identification of physical processes in the marine environment that are controlling ecological processes
  • Assessment of offshore geologic hazards, including evaluation of earthquake and tsunami sources
  • Determining the effects of land use on sediment, contaminant, and nutrient loads to project effects of future land-use changes

Related Sound Waves Stories
Mapping the Sea Floor Southwest of Santa Rosa Island, California
November 2007
Offshore Mapping Captures Tar Seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel, California
September 2007
California Sea Otters—2007 Survey Count Reaches New High
September 2007

Related Web Sites
USGS Science Strategy
USGS (U.S. Geological Survey)
Western Coastal & Marine Geology
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Santa Cruz & Menlo Park, CA
Oceans and Coastal Frontiers
U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)
West Coast Governors' Agreement on Ocean Health
States of California, Oregon, and Washington
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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cover story:
Palos Verdes Shelf Experiment: Contaminated Mud

Palos Verdes Shelf Experiment: Whatever Can Go Wrong

Submarine Landslides and Large Earthquakes

Whitings Possible Explanation for Middle East Oil Deposits

USGS Participates in Marine Quest 2008

Law of the Sea Studies

Meetings USGS/DOI Santa Barbara Channel Workshop

USGS Part of Law of the Sea Delegation

Carolinas Coastal Change Processes Project

Awards USGS Circular Wins Blue Pencil Award


July 2008 Publications List

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSS)