The California Channel Islands contain some of the best geologic records of past climate and sea-level changes, recorded in uplifted, fossil-bearing marine terrace deposits. Among the eight California Channel Islands and the nearby Palos Verdes Hills, only Santa Catalina Island does not exhibit prominent emergent marine terraces, though the same terrace-forming processes that acted on the other Channel Islands must also have occurred on Santa Catalina. We re-evaluated previous researchers' field evidence and examined new topographic, bathymetric, and stream-profile data in order to find possible explanations for the lack of obvious marine terrace landforms or deposits on the island today. The most likely explanation is associated with the island's unresolved tectonic history, with evidence for both recent uplift and subsidence being offered by different researchers. Bathymetric and seismic reflection data indicate the presence of submerged terrace-like landforms from a few meters below present sea level to depths far exceeding that of the lowest glacial lowstand, suggesting that the Catalina Island block may have subsided, submerging marine terraces that would have formed in the late Quaternary. Similar submerged marine terrace landforms exist offshore of all of the other California Channel Islands, including some at anomalously great depths, but late Quaternary uplift is well documented on those islands. Therefore, such submarine features must be more thoroughly investigated and adequately explained before they can be accepted as definitive evidence of subsidence. Nevertheless, the striking similarity of the terrace-like features around Santa Catalina Island to those surrounding the other, uplifting, Channel Islands prompted us to investigate other lines of evidence of tectonic activity, such as stream profile data. Recent uplift is suggested by disequilibrium stream profiles on the western side of the island, including nickpoints and profile convexities. Rapid uplift is also indicated by the island's highly dissected, steep topography and abundant landslides. A likely cause of uplift is a restraining bend in the offshore Catalina strike-slip fault. Our analysis suggests that Santa Catalina Island has recently experienced, and may still be experiencing, relatively rapid uplift, causing intense landscape rejuvenation that removed nearly all traces of marine terraces by erosion. A similar research approach, incorporating submarine as well as subaerial geomorphic data, could be applied to many tectonically active coastlines in which a marine terrace record appears to be missing.
Additional publication details
Tectonic influences on the preservation of marine terraces: Old and new evidence from Santa Catalina Island, California