The Impact of Climatic and Seismic Events on the Short-term Evolution of Seacliffs Based on 3-D Mapping: Northern Monterey Bay, California

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coastal erosion, El Niño, seacliff retreat, Loma Prieta earthquake, Monterey Bay, California

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Coastal cliff retreat along the central California coast is episodic, occurring in response to single large storms or seismic events. Traditional approaches to the study of long-term seacliff retreat utilize historical aerial photography and maps to delineate the landward migration of the top edge of the cliff over periods of tens of years to a century. While these methods yield cumulative retreat amounts, they provide little or no information on the character of the individual retreat events, nor the physical processes of retreat. This study addresses the processes of episodic and short-term coastal cliff retreat through the analysis of seacliff failure styles and retreat magnitudes. The study areas are three, 1-km-long sections of cliffed coast in northern Monterey Bay. The earliest data set is vertical aerial photography from October 18, 1989, taken the day following the magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake. More recent photography, collected in late January, early February and early March of 1998, captured seacliff failure in response to the severe storms associated with the 1997–1998 El Niño. For each data set, high-resolution digital photogrammetric techniques are used to identify the top edge of the cliff. At each cliff failure location, its position, failure length and character are documented. Results suggest that on a regional scale, the seacliffs respond to seismic and climatic forcing differently. We have found variation in the magnitude of cliff response along the three sections of coast in the study area. Large-scale climatic events such as the 1997–1998 El Niño have a greater impact on both the linear extent of seacliff failure and the amount of cliff retreat.

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Marine Geology, v. 187, issue 3-4, p. 259-278