, Volume 129, Issue 1, pp 1-12

First online:

Environmental setting of San Francisco Bay

  • T. J. ConomosAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , R. E. SmithAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , J. W. GartnerAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey

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San Francisco Bay, the largest bay on the California coast, is a broad, shallow, turbid estuary comprising two geographically and hydrologically distinct subestuaries: the northern reach lying between the connection to the Pacific Ocean at the Golden Gate and the confluence of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, and the southern reach (herein called South Bay) between the Golden Gate and the southern terminus of the bay. The northern reach is a partially mixed estuary dominated by seasonally varying river inflow, and the South Bay is a tidally oscillating lagoon-type estuary. Freshwater inflows, highest during winter, generate strong estuarine circulation and largely determine water residence times. They also bring large volumes of dissolved and particulate materials to the estuary. Tidal currents, generated by mixed semidiurnal and diurnal tides, mix the water column and, together with river inflow and basin geometry, determine circulation patterns. Winds, which are strongest during summer and during winter storms, exert stress on the bay's water surface, thereby creating large waves that resuspend sediment from the shallow bay bottom and, together with the tidal currents, contribute markedly to the transport of water masses throughout the shallow estuary.


San Francisco Bay estuaries climate river inflow tides water properties