Impact of the San Francisco Bay Plume in the California north central coast

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Focus Area(s)
Healthy Coastal Ecosystems

San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the US West Coast, situated in a highly urbanized region impacted by industrial, commercial, and agricultural wastes. As water exits the bay it forms the San Francisco Bay Plume (SFBP): a layer of low-salinity water that advances over the denser seawater.  SFBP spreads into the Gulf of the Farallones, bringing with it an immense amount of nutrients that influence one of the most productive regions in the California Current System.

Understanding how water from the San Francisco Bay —and the nutrients and pollutants it contains—reaches the coastal ocean is necessary for the proper management of this region, which includes extremely ecologically relevant areas, such as the Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey National Marine Sanctuaries.

In this project, researchers plan to create a model, known as a synthetic surface salinity tool, combining salinity observations and ocean color data from satellites. Using this model, they will investigate the seasonal and interannual variability of the SFBP, and analyze the statistical relationship to mechanisms that influence the plume dynamics such as river discharge, winds, and interannual climate oscillations. Results from this project will allow for the first time, the characterization of the extension, time and spatial variability, and the reach of influence of the SFBP. The end goal is to make the synthetic surface salinity model available through the Central and Northern California Observing System (CENCOOS), to help improve coastal ocean forecast and serve as a valuable tool for policy makers and resource managers.