Dec 16 2010

Many changes in a month – AGU Fall Meeting 2010 and Cr-48

Each year for the past 40 or so years, the American Geophysical Union has met in San Francisco around December for what is now the Fall Meeting.  I’ve been an AGU member for about 28 years, and for a time was attending each and every Fall meeting—but these days it’s about once every three years.

This was one of those years, and it was a great pleasure today running into a good handful of friends and former school colleagues from years past!  Also, it was much fun to present a poster that summarized an analysis of synthetic flow lines built on the integrated topographic-bathymetric surface model.  Basically, with a very detailed 3D surface grid that runs continuously from mountaintop to offshore out to the 3-nautical-mile legal boundary of California counties, it is possible to draw streams as they would have flowed when sea level was lower, like 7000 years ago.

Much of the interesting topography from those streams got clobbered by sea level rise.  As the Ice Age retreated and continental glaciers melted out, the waves from the Pacific Ocean pounded the coast back to where it is today, and planed off much of where the streams once ran.

With ArcHydro-style drainage analysis on our terrain model that has fused detailed multibeam bathymetry from the California Seafloor Mapping Project, it is possible to identify extremely subtle signatures in the portion of the offshore platform that is Santa Cruz mudstone formation, a harder Miocene formation that expresses bedding in its surface.

With the analysis, when synthetic drainage paths are symbolized to emphasize flow lines with greater catchment area one can observe suggestions of right-lateral offset.  In California, this is a signature pattern for tectonic offset of drainages that cross strike-slip faults with right-lateral offset.  Because the formation where the analysis has detected possible offset is older (Miocene is more than 5 million years old, but the offset is perhaps only in the last 1 million years), this result should not cause much excitement with regard to modern seismic hazard.  It could however prove helpful to those who would decode the geologic structure of the Point Reyes peninsula.

(comments on the Cr-48 have been moved to its own blog at

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