National Research Program

San Francisco Bay

An estuarine laboratory

Polaris on San Francisco Bay
USGS has conducted research in San Francisco Bay since 1968, examining processes in time scales that range from seconds to decades. Much of the research is being conducted in cooperation with scientists from universities, State, and other Federal Agencies. Some research highlights include:

  • San Francisco Bay has the longest continuous water-quality dataset for an estuary in the United States. Data, include salinity, temperature, suspended solids, dissolved oxygen, light penetration, and chlorophyll concentration and are being used to track the suitability of the Bay as a habitat for fish and other organisms. See water-quality data for San Francisco Bay for additional information and to access the data.
  • Long-term USGS studies made it possible to track how changes in sewage treatment can improve water quality. For example, analyses of clams that were collected about 1 kilometer from the Palo Alto sewage treatment plant in South San Francisco Bay showed elevated concentrations (about 100 µg/g) of silver in 1976. By 1995, after improvements in treatment processes and a program that encouraged the electronics industry to recycle silver, the concentration of silver had decrease a hundred-fold. For graphs and other infromation on metal trends in the Bay, see Linkage of Bioaccumulation and Biological Effects to Changes in Pollutant Loads in South San Francisco Bay.
  • In collaboration with NOAA, data are collected continuously at sites throughout San Francisco Bay. Measurements of water level (tide), current, water and air temperature, salinity, wind speed, and wind direction are made using various field sensors and uploaded to computers through the use of cables and underwater acoustic modems. This interactive near real-time information is being used to improve navigation safety, provide hydro-meteorological information for spill prevention and cleanup, help in planning search and rescue missions, and for recreation. Check out the interactive model and data.

For additional information on research in San Francisco Bay, see USGS San Francisco Bay and Delta or contact Janet Thompson,

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