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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Historic, Recent, and Future Subsidence, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California, USA


To estimate and understand recent subsidence, we collected elevation and soils data on Bacon and Sherman islands in 2006 at locations of previous elevation measurements. Measured subsidence rates on Sherman Island from 1988 to 2006 averaged 1.23 cm/year (0.5 in/yr) and ranged from 0.7 to 1.7 cm/year (0.3 to 0.7 in/year). Subsidence rates on Bacon Island from 1978 to 2006 averaged 2.2 cm/year (0.9 in/yr) and ranged from 1.5 to 3.7 cm/year (0.6 to 1.5 in/yr). Changing land-management practices and decreasing soil organic matter content have resulted in decreasing subsidence rates. On Sherman Island, rates from 1988 to 2006 were about 35% of 1910 to 1988 rates. For Bacon Island, rates from 1978 to 2006 were about 40% less than the 1926-1958 rates. To help understand causes and estimate future subsidence, we developed a subsidence model, SUBCALC, that simulates oxidation and carbon losses, consolidation, wind erosion, and burning and changing soil organic matter content. SUBCALC results agreed well with measured land-surface elevation changes. We predicted elevation decreases from 2007 to 2050 will range from a few centimeters to over 1.3 m (4.3 ft). The largest elevation declines will occur in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. From 2007 to 2050, the most probable estimated increase in volume below sea level is 349,956,000 million cubic meters (281,300 acre-feet). Consequences of this continuing subsidence include increased drainage loads of water quality constituents of concern, seepage onto islands, and decreased arability.

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