Public programs at UCMP : UCMP's annual short course

San Francisco Bay - Past, Present and Future

Registration is open for the 2016 Short Course. Please click here for the registration form.

The San Francisco Bay estuary is one of the most important ecological habitats in California and its presence influences most everything unique about the area – the geography, the weather, the people. Earthquakes, sea level change, erosion, and other geological processes have shaped the Bay and surrounding landscape for thousands of years. Today and throughout the history of human settlement in the Bay Area and northern California, the Bay has been affected by human activity in a multitude of ways – from hydraulic mining during the gold rush, the introduction of non-native species, and to the ongoing modification of the Bay shoreline in a region where more than 7 million people call home. Join us to explore the state of the Bay and hear from experts on its history and future as we consider the human and non-human causes of change continuing to shape the San Francisco Bay.

This short course is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) and Science@Cal.

Saturday, February 27, 2016
10 Evans Hall, UC Berkeley
9:00 am to 3:30 pm





Welcome, logistics, and introduction by Lisa White


Setting the stage — Lisa White

Download White's Presentation (6.2 MB)


Earthquakes and Faulting: The San Francisco Bay Area's Brahma and Shiva (Builder and Destroyer)
Rufus Catchings, USGS
Earthquakes and faulting are the major factors shaping the Bay Area landscape, producing linear valleys and mountains that strongly influence where we live and work, our water resources, and our microclimates. Although earthquakes and faulting have built the incredible beauty of the SF Bay Area's landscape, but they can also expend incredible destruction, and just as in Hindu mythology, this Brahma/Shiva pair is a necessity. Largely pull-apart structures between major faults form valleys, and the mountains form from compressive forces across the major faults. Numerous smaller faults also occur within the mountains and as blind faults beneath the valleys, where most of the population resides. Movement on faults can generate destructive earthquakes and strong seismic energy can travel along these faults far beyond the earthquake epicenter. Recent research on the connectivity of faults show that specific areas of the SF Bay may be much more susceptible to strong ground shaking than we previously realized.


Clearing waters of San Francisco Bay: A legacy of California's Gold Rush
David Schoellhamer, Research Hydrologist, USGS
In 1999 the waters of San Francisco Bay fairly suddenly became about 40% clearer. El Niño caused floods exported a tremendous quantity of sediment in 1998, depleting an erodible pool of sediment that originated from hydraulic mining in the late 1800s. This clearing is part of a geomorphic adjustment of the entire San Francisco Bay watershed to a smaller supply of sediment supply after hydraulic mining ceased and dams that trap sediment were built. This finding has led to a paradigm shift in Bay management from sediment being considered a nuisance to being considered a valuable resource for water quality and sustaining tidal marshes as sea level rises.

Download Schoellhamer's Presentation (12.9 MB)


A History of California Climate Extremes: Clues from San Francisco Bay Sediments
Lynn Ingram, UC Berkeley, and Frances Malamud-Roam, Cal Trans
In this talk, we will present evidence for the long-term history of climate change in California, primarily based on geochemical measurements of sediments cored beneath San Francisco Bay. These data are compared with other paleoclimate records from California and the American West delineating past “megafloods” and “megadroughts” that recurred over the past several thousand years. These extreme events in California and the West were more severe than any experienced over the past century but are virtually unknown in the living memory of modern residents of the West. Archaeological records show that Native American populations suffered from the megadroughts with malnutrition, increased rates of disease and violence, and finally collapse. These severe climatic downturns and are likely to recur in the coming century with human caused warming.

Download Ingram and Malamud-Roam's Presenation (60.3 MB)
Compressed File (16.6 MB)


Break for lunch (on your own)


Toxic Phytoplankton: Algae with an Attitude in Northern California
William Cochlan, Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies at SF State University
Phytoplankton are essential for our survival on this planet, but some are also producers of potent biotoxins disruptive to aquatic ecosystems. The episodic upwelling waters of California support some of the most toxic of these phytoplankton species, and their ecological impacts are also observed in San Francisco Bay. Understanding the environmental factors which support the growth of toxic phytoplankton and biotoxin production will be discussed, particularly the anthropogenic factors of eutrophication and climatic change including altered salinities, nutrient conditions and temperature, but also the impact of more acidic waters - environmental conditions changing in the coastal waters of California due to CO2-induced ocean acidification and greenhouse warming.


Out of the pan, into the fire: Restoring the San Francisco Estuary's tidal wetlands in the face of rapid climate change
Michael Vasey, San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
One of the largest wetland restoration efforts in the nation has taken place in the San Francisco Bay Estuary. So far, approximately 30,000 acres of tidal marsh are in the process of being restored. With accelerated sea-level rise, extreme storms, flood risks, and drought, new challenges have emerged that threaten these projects as well as remnant historic tidal marshes and their iconic threatened species. Will marshes drown and convert to mudflats as the Bay turns into a giant "bathtub?" Or, does this threat pose opportunities for more enhanced coastal resilience, a more effective coastal intelligence network, and better coastal stewardship in the future? These questions are the focus of this talk.

Download Vasey's Presentation(63.7 MB)
Compressed File (13.6 MB)


Open questions

About the Speakers
Rufus Catchings is a Research Geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, CA. An expert in seismic hazards and ground shaking associated with large earthquakes, he has led and coordinated numerous seismic investigations that seek to improve our ability to better locate earthquakes, understand ground shaking, and understand the intricate nature of complex fault systems. At the USGS, where he has been a geophysicist since 1979, Rufus has served in leadership and chief scientist roles and has been honored for his service by the Department of the Interior. Rufus earned a Bachelor's degree in Geology from Appalachian State University, a Master's degree in Geophysics from the University of Wisconsin, and a Doctorate in Geophysics from Stanford University.

David Schoellhamer is a Research Hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. He has studied sediment transport in San Francisco Bay since 1993. The foundation of this research is a 24 year long database of automatically and continuously collected suspended sediment data. Initially his research was on tidal variations but as the database lengthened longer time scales and geomorphology had to be considered to understand the data. He has advised many marsh restoration projects in the Bay Area. He earned a Bachelor and Master degrees in Civil Engineering from UC Davis and a doctorate in Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering from the University of Florida.

B. Lynn Ingram is a Professor in the Departments of Earth and Planetary Science and Geography at UC Berkeley. She studies the history of climate and environmental change in California using sediment cores from lakes and estuaries, including San Francisco Bay. A Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a Senior Fulbright recipient, and Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley, Lynn is the author of more than sixty published scientific articles on past climate change in California and the Pacific Rim, including The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow (2013, UC Press)

Frances Malamud-Roam is a Senior Environmental Planner and Biologist at Caltrans. She received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley, with research expertise in the origin of agriculture in China, the long-term evolution of salt marshes and estuaries along the Pacific Coast, and changing climate in California and the West. She has taught earth science and physical geography at Sonoma State University and Laney College. Frances is co-author with Lynn Ingram on The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow (2013, UC Press)

William Cochlan is a Senior Research Scientist at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University. He is a phytoplankton physiological ecologist who has conducted research as varied as large-scale oceanic iron fertilization studies in the equatorial and northern Pacific and Southern Oceans to designing and optimizing the commercial technology for algal biofuel production. A veteran of many multi-partner research efforts including ecological studies in the Southern Ocean, Harmful Algal Blooms in the Salish Sea and San Francisco Bay, and the impact of ocean acidification along the California coast, Bill is currently studying the effects of climate change on phytoplankton physiology and biotoxin production. Bill earned his B.Sc. and Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, and his M.Sc. from Dalhousie University.

Michael Vasey is an evolutionary ecologist by training and a long-time lecturer in conservation biology at San Francisco State University. He helped found the SF Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and conducted several years of research focused on tidal wetland vegetation in the San Francisco Estuary (SFE). The emerging focus of the NERR is coastal resilience, coastal intelligence, and engaging diverse audiences to better appreciate and support conservation of the SFE. As Director of the NERR, Mike manages a small dedicated staff focused on long-term monitoring and research, native oyster research, research on sediment transport across tidal marshes, teacher education on estuarine issues and citizen science (such as the King Tides Initiative), and coastal training workshops focused on climate change adaptation.


NOTE: Parking is always a problem on and near the campus. We strongly recommend taking public transportation. If this is not possible, public parking in the campus vicinity is indicated on this two-page pdf.

Questions? Contact Lisa White.

Read about past UCMP short courses.

San Francisco Bay graphic adapted from