Preliminary photointerpretation map of landslide and other surficial deposits of the Mount Hamilton quadrangle and parts of the Mount Boardman and San Jose quadrangles, Alameda and Santa Clara Counties, California

Miscellaneous Field Studies Map 339

Prepared in Cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development



The nine San Francisco Bay region counties lie within a geologically active, young, and dynamic part of the central and northern Coast Ranges of California. Significant movements of the earth's crust are occurring here at the present time, posing numerous problems to urbanization, including some of special concern. Geological processes such as fault movements, earthquakes, land subsidence, landsliding, slow downslope movement of bedrock and surficial materials, coastal and stream erosion, flooding, and sedimentation are all potentially hazardous. Because of these factors, an understanding of the operation of physical processes in the bay region is desirable for harmonious, efficient, and safe land-use planning, particularly now, with greatly expanded pressures for urban growth. 

This map presents preliminary information about one aspect of the physical environment necessary to sound land-use planning--the nature and distribution of surficial deposits. Because surficial deposits are common and well developed in much of the bay region, it is useful to know how and why they have formed, as well as what properties they possess. When maps like this are used in combination with other types of environmental information, such as data on soils, bedrock geology, slopes, vegetation, climatic variation, seismic response, and hydrology, it should be easier to arrive at sound decisions regarding the physical aspects of land use. The U.S. Geological Survey is studying many of these factors in the bay region and hopes to provide the community with much of the required information as part of its San Francisco Bay Region Study in cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The representation of surficial deposits on this map reflects the way in which a geologist, working exclusively with aerial photographs, interpreted the origin of various elements of the present landscape. The deposits shown here have not been examined in the field. However, by viewing overlapping vertical aerial photographs through a stereoscope, the geologist sees a three-dimensional relief model of the ground surface and can study and interpret the origins of landforms with considerable ease. In fact, for mapping surficial deposits, particularly in reconnaissance-type studies, photointerpretation has advantages over both ground observations and laboratory studies of surficial materials. Of course, better information can be provided when all aspects of the study are integrated. These preliminary photointerpretation maps are only the first stage in a detailed study of surficial deposits in the bay region, but they should provide land-use planners with immediately useful information about the regional distribution of landslide and other surficial deposits.

This map indicates the dominant surficial processes that have probably been operative by showing the distribution of different types of surficial deposits. Processes such as weathering, erosion, sedimentation, and the slow as well as rapid downslope movement of earth materials have constantly reshaped the land surface in the past and will continue to in the future, although at varying rates. The processes are interrelated to varying degrees. For example, crustal uplift of the Coast Ranges will lead to increased erosion and downcutting by streams that in turn generally results in increased deposition of sediments in river valleys, lakes, and shoreline areas. Older flood planes and river deposits may be eroded, leaving elevated terrace deposits. In addition, downcutting by streams may cause adjacent slopes to become unstable, thereby increasing the possibility of slope failures.

Man's activities can alter natural physical processes in many ways. Simple acts such as overwatering a lawn or placing a septic tank drainfield in ground that is marginally stable may weaken the bedrock and surficial materials enough to induce landsliding. Relatively stable areas may be made unstable as a result of construction activities that involve cutting or oversteepening of natural slopes. Engineers, builders, conservationists, and others concerned with land use must evaluate the potential effects of all types of development, and maps that show the nature and distribution of surficial deposits should provide much of the basic information they need.

This map, then, shows the cumulative effects of various processes that have yielded surficial deposits up to the time the photographs used for photointerpretation were taken. It does not indicate directly areas where processes will be most active, nor does it show the rate at which they will operate. However, knowledge of the history of geologic events is a key to understanding and predicting the evolution of an area, even where man's activities significantly change the character of the land. Almost all new landslides, for example, occur in areas with a history of landslide activity.

Study Area

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USGS Numbered Series
Preliminary photointerpretation map of landslide and other surficial deposits of the Mount Hamilton quadrangle and parts of the Mount Boardman and San Jose quadrangles, Alameda and Santa Clara Counties, California
Series title:
Miscellaneous Field Studies Map
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
2 Plates: 34.72 x 21.90 inches and 32.46 x 21.57 inches
United States
Alameda County, Santa Clara County
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