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Variability in Shelf Sedimentation in Response to Fluvial Sediment Supply and Coastal Erosion over the Past 1,000 Years in Monterey Bay, CA, USA

Continental shelf environments are uniquely situated to capture some of the most dynamic processes on Earth including climatic variability and anthropogenic modifications to coastal systems. Understanding how these processes have affected sediment delivery and accumulation on the shelf in the past may provide insight into potential changes in the future. To address this, we investigated shelf sedimentation within Monterey Bay, California. Sediment cores were collected from four locations throughout the bay to capture both the modern and late Holocene sedimentological record using grain size analysis, and sediment chronologies determined from 210Pb, 137Cs, and 14C. From the grain size results we focused on the total percent sand, and established a Littoral Sand Fraction (LSF) index to assess sediment contribution from the littoral zone as a result coastal erosion. Grain size results from the multicores consistently showed an increase in sand over the past several decades (post 1970s). For the cores located within the bay proximal to three major rivers, the increase in sand corresponded to a general increase in the LSF over the same period. We attributed these trends to increased sediment contributions to the shelf due to accelerated coastal erosion in the region. This accelerated coastal erosion was likely the combined result of dam construction in the mid-twentieth century that limited fluvial supply to the coast, and a shift in climate toward wetter, stormier period. Applying these sediment characteristics back over the past ∼1,000 years we found that dry climatic periods resulted in deposits that were limited in total sand but enriched in littoral material suggesting elevated coastal erosion. During wet periods deposits were enriched in total sand but limited in littoral sand suggesting elevated fluvial supply and low erosion. Compared to the late Holocene record, the previous several decades represent a shift to a new regime, uncharacteristic of deposits over the past millennia, highlighting the impact humans have had on shelf sedimentation.

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