California State Waters Map Series: offshore of Pacifica, California

Open-File Report 2014-1260
Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, Center for Habitat Studies; California Geological Survey; California State University Monterey Bay, Seafloor Mapping Lab; NOAA National Fisheries Service
By: , and 
Edited by: Susan A. Cochran and Brian D. Edwards


  • More information: USGS Index Page
  • Document: Pamphlet (906 KB pdf)
  • Plates:
    • Sheet 1 (20 MB pdf) Colored Shaded-Relief Bathymetry, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Carrie K. Bretz, Rikk G. Kvitek, Peter Dartnell, and Eleyne L. Phillips (39" x 36", 20 MB)
    • Sheet 2 (23.5 MB pdf) Shaded-Relief Bathymetry, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Carrie K. Bretz, Rikk G. Kvitek, Peter Dartnell, and Eleyne L. Phillips (39" x 36", 23.5 MB)
    • Sheet 3 (25.7 MB pdf) Acoustic Backscatter, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Carrie K. Bretz, Rikk G. Kvitek, Peter Dartnell, Mercedes D. Erdey, and Eleyne L. Phillips (39" x 36", 25.7 MB)
    • Sheet 4 (17 MB pdf) Data Integration and Visualization, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Peter Dartnell (46" x 36", 17 MB)
    • Sheet 5 (26.5 MB pdf) Seafloor Character, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Eleyne L. Phillips and Guy R. Cochrane (46" x 36", 26.5 MB)
    • Sheet 6 (19.6 MB pdf) Ground-Truth Studies, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Nadine E. Golden, Brian D. Edwards, Guy R. Cochrane, Eleyne L. Phillips, Mercedes D. Erdey, and Lisa M. Krigsman (46" x 36", 19.6 MB)
    • Sheet 7 (17.4 MB pdf) Potential Marine Benthic Habitats, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Charles A. Endris, H. Gary Greene, Bryan E. Dieter, Mercedes D. Erdey, Nadine E. Golden, and Brian D. Edwards (46" x 36", 17.4 MB)
    • Sheet 8 (18.7 MB pdf) Seismic-Reflection Profiles, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By Ray W. Sliter, Samuel Y. Johnson, Stephanie L. Ross, and John L. Chin (48" x 36", 18.7 MB)
    • Sheet 9 (8.7 MB pdf) Local (Offshore of Pacifica Map Area) and Regional (Offshore from Bolinas to Pescadero) Shallow-Subsurface Geology and Structure, California By Samuel Y. Johnson, Stephen R. Hartwell, Ray W. Sliter, Janet T. Watt, Eleyne L. Phillips, Stephanie L. Ross, and John L. Chin (46" x 36", 8.7 MB)
    • Sheet 10 (13.6 MB pdf) Offshore and Onshore Geology and Geomorphology, Offshore of Pacifica Map Area, California By H. Gary Greene, Stephen R. Hartwell, Michael W. Manson, Samuel Y. Johnson, Bryan E. Dieter, Eleyne L. Phillips, and Janet T. Watt (47.8" x 36", 13.6 MB)
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In 2007, the California Ocean Protection Council initiated the California Seafloor Mapping Program (CSMP), designed to create a comprehensive seafloor map of high-resolution bathymetry, marine benthic habitats, and geology within the 3-nautical-mile limit of California’s State Waters. The CSMP approach is to create highly detailed seafloor maps through collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar data, acoustic backscatter, seafloor video, seafloor photography, high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles, and bottom-sediment sampling data. The map products display seafloor morphology and character, identify potential marine benthic habitats, and illustrate both the surficial seafloor geology and shallow (to about 100 m) subsurface geology. 

The Offshore of Pacifica map area is located in northern California, on the Pacific coast of the San Francisco Peninsula about 10 kilometers south of the Golden Gate. The map area extends from Daly City, through Pacifica, to the small coastal community of Montara. Much of the coastal zone is managed by either the State of California or local governments, including Thornton Beach State Park, Mussel Rock Park, Pacifica State Beach, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, and Montara State Beach.

The major structure in the transform boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, the northwest-striking San Andreas Fault, cuts through the map area, crossing the shoreline near Mussel Rock before continuing offshore. The epicenter of the great 1906 California earthquake is located on the offshore part of the San Andreas Fault Zone a few kilometers north of the map area. 

The map area is located at the northwest end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, much of which has been uplifted in the last 400,000 years. Southwest of the San Andreas Fault Zone, this uplift has resulted in a highly variable coastal morphology characterized by long, narrow beaches bounded by steep cliffs or marine terraces, small pocket beaches surrounded by rocky promontories, and steep, narrow coastal watersheds. Geologic units mapped along the coast include sedimentary, volcanic, and metamorphic rocks of the Franciscan Complex; Cretaceous granitic rocks; Tertiary sedimentary rocks; and Quaternary coastal marine terraces, deep-seated and shallow landslides, and beach and sand dune deposits, all of which contribute sediment to the coastal zone.

In contrast to the more rural coastal zone to the south, the highly urbanized coastal zone north of Mussel Rock and the San Andreas Fault Zone is characterized by a narrow beach bounded by steep, 50- to 120-m-high cliffs made up of sand, silt, and clay of the Pliocene and Pleistocene Merced Formation, the source of numerous landslides. Two large landslides along “Northridge bluff” in 2003 and 2007 had estimated volumes of 305,800 to 382,300 m3 and 120,800 m3, respectively. Coastal landslides also are an issue to the south between Mussel Rock and Mori Point, even as bluffs diminish in height and pocket beaches transition to a more continuous strand bounded by Quaternary-age dunes and low-lying marine terraces. Mori Point, a coastal promontory in Pacifica underlain by rocks of the Franciscan Complex, rises abruptly to a height of 90 m from the shoreline. Pocket beaches characterize the shoreline from Mori Point south to Shelter Cove, the largest of which, Pacifica State Beach, is at the mouth of San Pedro Creek. 

The coastal zone south of Pacifica, which stretches from Shelter Cove to Montara and includes Point San Pedro and Devils Slide, lies at the northwest end of San Pedro Mountain (underlain largely by early Tertiary sedimentary rocks) and Montara Mountain (underlain by Cretaceous granitic rocks). Elevations at Montara Mountain exceed 500 m just 4 km from the shoreline, and steep cliffs along the coast are as high as 275 m. This rugged terrain results in numerous rocky promontories, small pocket beaches, and large coastal landslides. Slope failures along Devils Slide are notorious for closing California Highway 1, creating such a large and persistent problem that the California Department of Transportation has bypassed this coastal section by tunneling through San Pedro Mountain; the tunnel was completed and the new section of highway opened in 2013. Coastal relief diminishes at Montara in the southernmost part of the map area, where the shoreline is bounded by 10- to 20-m-high marine terraces.

Throughout the year, this part of the coast is exposed to the north Pacific swell, the southern swell, northwest wind waves, and local wind waves. The north Pacific swell dominates in winter months, having wave heights that range from 2 to 10 m at offshore buoys and wave periods that range from 10 to 25 s. During summer months, the largest waves come from the southern swell, generated by storms in the south Pacific and offshore of Central America. Characteristically, these swells have smaller wave heights (0.3–3 m) but similarly long wave periods (10–25 s). Local wind waves are most common from October to April, whereas northwest wind waves affect the coast throughout the year. These two wind-wave regimes typically have wave heights of 1 to 4 m and short wave periods (3–10 s). 

Unlike many other parts of the California coast where sediment is supplied primarily from river and (or) stream runoff, sediment supply to the offshore along this part of northern California is a complex mixture of (1) sand transported from the coast north of the Golden Gate, (2) sediment transported to the coast through the San Francisco Bay via the Golden Gate and then dispersed over the adjacent ebb-tide delta, and (3) varying volumes of sediment eroded from adjacent steep coastal bluffs caused by wave-induced landslides and other erosional events. Additionally, since the 1980s, coastal erosion south of the Golden Gate has increased substantially between Ocean Beach (on the west coast of San Francisco, about 5 km north of the map area) and Point San Pedro. The combined sediment load is transported southward along the coast by the generally north-to-south alongshore current, which develops in response to the energetic winter-wave climate associated with the north Pacific swell. Overall, beaches in the map area have a long-term erosional trend, except near Mussel Rock where a long-term accretionary trend may reflect increased sediment supply from landslides. Beach-front riprap armoring and retaining walls are used locally to protect the shoreline from seasonal storm waves, most notably between Mussel Rock and Mori Point.

The continental shelf in the map area is about 40 km wide, with water depths at the shelf break that range from about 80 to 120 m. Within California’s State Waters, the midshelf to inner shelf areas are characterized by a relatively flat, shallow (water depths of as much as 44 m) seafloor that dips gently (about 0.2° to 0.3°) westward. The seafloor is composed primarily of unconsolidated Holocene sediment (marine deposits), as well as some nearshore bedrock outcrops that consist primarily of rocks of the Tertiary Purisima Formation and also Cretaceous plutonic rocks (granite or granodiorite).

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title California State Waters Map Series: offshore of Pacifica, California
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2014-1260
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141260
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description Report: iv, 38 p.; 10 Sheets: 48 x 36 inches or smaller
Country United States
State California
City Pacifica
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details