Coastal bluff erosion and landsliding are currently the major geomorphic processes sculpting much of the marine terrace dominated coastline of northern California. In this study, we identify the spatial and temporal processes responsible for erosion and landsliding in an area of weakly lithified sand coastal bluffs located south of San Francisco, California. Using the results of a five year observational study consisting of site visits, terrestrial lidar scanning, and development of empirical failure indices, we identify the lithologic and process controls that determine the failure mechanism and mode for coastal bluff retreat in this region and present concise descriptions of each process. Bluffs composed of weakly cemented sands (unconfined compressive strength - UCS between 5 and 30??kPa) fail principally due to oversteepening by wave action with maximum slope inclinations on the order of 65 at incipient failure. Periods of significant wave action were identified on the basis of an empirical wave run-up equation, predicting failure when wave run-up exceeds the seasonal average value and the bluff toe elevation. The empirical relationship was verified through recorded observations of failures. Bluffs composed of moderately cemented sands (UCS up to 400??kPa) fail due to precipitation-induced groundwater seepage, which leads to tensile strength reduction and fracture. An empirical rainfall threshold was also developed to predict failure on the basis of a 48-hour cumulative precipitation index but was found to be dependent on a time delay in groundwater seepage in some cases.
Additional publication details
Processes of coastal bluff erosion in weakly lithified sands, Pacifica, California, USA