Predicting multi-scale relationships between geomorphology and bedrock geology of the rocky intertidal in Central and Northern California

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Ashley Wheeler, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Moss Landing, CA, United States and Ivano W Aiello, California State University Monterey Bay, Seaside, CA, United States
Substratum geology is fundamental in shaping rocky shore morphology. Specific lithologies have various responses to wave action, tectonic features (e.g. fractures, faults) and sedimentary structures (e.g. bedding), creating distinctive weathering profiles. Along with local oceanography and climate forcing, different rock substrata create coastal morphologies that can vary distinctly between scales, ranging from mm to km. Despite the complexity of the system, qualitative observations show coastal areas with similar rock types share similar geomorphologies. Thus, a statistic relationship between geomorphology (expressed for instance by surface parameter rugosity) and geology can be envisaged. There are multiple benefits of finding such a relationship, as rocky intertidal geomorphology can be an important determinant in which organisms can settle, grow, and survive in near shore communities: allowing the prediction of geomorphologic parameters determining coastal ecology solely based on substratum geology, a crucial aspect in guiding the selection of marine protected areas.

This study presents preliminary results of multi-scale geospatial surveys (cm to tens of meters) of rocky intertidal outcrops from Central to Northern California using a Terrestrial Laser Scanner. The outcrops investigated are representative of the most common igneous and sedimentary rocks in California (granitoids, conglomerates, sandstones, mudstones) and metamorphic units. The statistical analysis of the survey data support the hypothesis that surface properties can change significantly with changing scale, each rock type having distinct surface characteristics which are similar to comparable lithologies exposed at different locations. These scale dependent variations are controlled by different lithologic and structural characteristics of the outcrop in question. Our data also suggests lithologic variability within a rock unit could be a very significant factor in controlling changes in rugosity across scales.