This activity was created by Prof. Karen Grove (© 1998, 2001 Grove) for use in the Introduction to Oceanography Laboratory course at San Francisco State University. Other educators are welcome to use these exercises in their own classes; please send your comments to: Commercial use prohibited.

Estuaries and San Francisco Bay

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This exercise is designed to provide basic information about the physical and biological aspects of San Francisco Bay. Instructors and students are welcome to use this information to enhance their educational activities. This site was funded by the MASTEP, a NSF-supported consortium to enhance science teaching and learning.

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Objective: The objective of this exercise is to explore the uses and functions of estuaries­--coastal environments that are highly productive habitats for marine life, that are economically important as fisheries and avenues for trade and commerce, and that also have high recreational and esthetic value. Because of their benefits, humans use them intensively, and their health has suffered accordingly. San Francisco Bay is a world-class example of a major estuary that is both highly valued and in some ways threatened by anthropogenic (human) influences. During the past 150 years, the Bay has undergone rapid urbanization and is today surrounded by nearly 10 million people, in the economically and culturally rich region known as the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay is used in this exercise to illustrate the processes that operate in estuaries and the influence of human activities. The exercise is divided into components that explore the various aspects of estuaries and San Francisco Bay. Questions throughout challenge the reader to think carefully about the implications of the material presented.

Supplemental materials: While this web site is meant to provide an overview of Bay characteristics and processes, nothing can substitute for direct experience of the Bay. If possible, go out and look at the Bay and its surrounding wetlands (where they are preserved). Explore other sources of information; many useful links are provided in these pages. Some maps and images are provided, but if possible obtain paper copies of marine charts of the Bay for reference.

PART I. What is an estuary?

PART II. The origins of San Francisco Bay

PART III. Tides and currents in San Francisco Bay

PART IV. The food web: life in San Francisco Bay

PART V. Sediments: their source and distribution

PART VI. Wetlands: the Bay's soggy margins

PART VII. The Bay's water: properties and processes


Credits for images and data used in this exercise are provided in each section.

San Francisco Bay News and Information (links to useful local sites):

The U.S. Geological Surveys' Access San Francisco Bay and Delta web site contains many useful studies about water quality, wetlands and land use, sedimentation, ecology, and includes real-time wind, tidal, and current data.

The San Francisco Estuary Project contains on-line publications such as the State of the Estuary report, Estuary newsletter, and is hosted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

The San Francisco Estuary Institute monitors water quality and wetlands and produces many reports about the Bay.

Save San Francisco Bay Association works to preserve the health of the Bay and offers many opportunities for education and volunteerism.

The Interagency Ecological Program is a cooperative of many local agencies that investigates the ecology of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to enhance efficient management.

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