20th to 21st Century Relative Sea and Land Level Changes in Northern California Tectonic Land Level Changes and their Contribution to Sea-Level Rise, Humboldt Bay Region, Northern California

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Jason R. Patton
Todd B. Williams
Jeffrey K. Anderson
Mark Hemphill-Haley
Reed J. Burgette
Ray Weldon II
Robert C. McPherson
Thomas H. Leroy


Sea-level changes are modulated in coastal northern California by land-level changes due to the earthquake cycle along the Cascadia subduction zone, the San Andreas plate boundary fault system, and crustal faults. Sea-level rise (SLR) subjects ecological and anthropogenic infrastructure to increased vulnerability to changes in habitat and increased risk for physical damage. The degree to which each of these forcing factors drives this modulation is poorly resolved. We use NOAA tide gage data and ‘campaign’ tide gage deployments, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, and National Geodetic Survey (NGS) first-order levelling data to calculate vertical land motion (VLM) rates in coastal northern California. Sea-level observations, highway level surveys, and GNSS data all confirm that land is subsiding in Humboldt Bay, in contrast to Crescent City where the land is rising. Subtracting absolute sea-level rate (~1.99 mm/year) from Crescent City (CC) and North Spit (NS) gage relative sea-level rates reveals that CC is uplifting at ~2.83 mm/year and NS is subsiding at ~3.21mm/year. GNSS vertical deformation reveals similar rates of ~2.60 mm/year of uplift at Crescent City. In coastal northern California, there is an E-W trending variation in vertical land motion that is primarily due to Cascadia megathrust fault seismogenic coupling. This interseismic subsidence also dominates the N-S variation in vertical land motion in most of the study region. There exists a second-order heterogeneous N-S trend in vertical land motion that we associate to crustal fault-related strain. There may be non-tectonic contributions to the observed VLM rates.

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