Giant sand waves at the mouth of San Francisco Bay



A field of giant sand waves, among the largest in the world, recently was mapped in high resolution for the first time during a multibeam survey in 2004 and 2005 through the strait of the Golden Gate at the mouth of San Francisco Bay in California (Figure la). This massive bed form field covers an area of approximately four square kilometers in water depths ranging from 30 to 106 meters, featuring more than 40 distinct sand waves with crests aligned approximately perpendicular to the dominant tidally generated cross-shore currents, with wavelengths and heights that measure up to 220 meters and 10 meters, respectively.

Sand wave crests can be traced continuously for up to two kilometers across the mouth of this energetic tidal inlet, where depth-averaged tidal currents through the strait below the Golden Gate Bridge exceed 2.5 meters per second during peak ebb flows. Repeated surveys demonstrated that the sand waves are active and dynamic features that move in response to tidally generated currents. The complex temporal and spatial variations in wave and tidal current interactions in this region result in an astoundingly diverse array of bed form morphologies, scales, and orientations. Bed forms of approximately half the scale of those reported in this article previously were mapped inside San Francisco Bay during a multibeam survey in 1997 [Chin et al., 1997].