Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies

Image: Ripples on water

SF State's bayside marine and estuarine research facility.

Environmental Monitoring (SF- BEAMS)


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Environmental Monitoring (SF-BEAMS)
The San Francisco Bay Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Station (SF-BEAMS) program, operated by the Robinson Lab, has a mission of providing long-term measurements of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the SF Bay.


We operate two water monitoring stations: one near the deep water channel of the Central Bay, which lies a few hundred meters north of the Tiburon Peninsula, and a second at Carquinez Strait, where a majority of SF Bay’s fresh water input enters the bay. Additional stations are located along San Francisco’s waterfront and near the bay’s outflow to the ocean at the Golden Gate, which are operated in conjunction with our partners at the US Integrated Ocean Observing System and the Exploratorium Museum. The measurements are recorded every 6 minutes and resulting datasets represent time series as great as 12 years in duration. The water monitoring data may be viewed and downloaded from the SFBEAMS website.


We also measure the speed and direction of surface currents in SF Bay and in the coast region outside of the Golden Gate using a technology know as high frequency radar. For the bay, the measurements are posted in near real-time at high spatial (200 m) and temporal (30 minute) resolution. The data are used to forecast the movement of floating items such as oil spills, sewage discharges, vessel in distress, and estuarine organisms. In addition, boaters and windsurfers use the data to plan their recreational activities. The surface current data may be viewed at the Northern California Currents website. Bay Area recreational boaters can view past, present, and predicted surface currents by downloading the Bay Currents app for iPhone/iPad.


Why Monitor the Bay?
The San Francisco Bay (SF Bay) contains the largest estuarine system on the Pacific Coast of North America. It is heavily urbanized and has a large agricultural watershed that drains 40% of the total area of the state of California. The estuary receives significant nutrient inputs from agricultural runoff and over 40 sewage treatment plants. Despite the abundance of nutrients, phytoplankton biomass in SF Bay has historically been low, kept in check by light limitation due to the high turbidity of bay waters. But that situation is changing.


In recent years, the waters of SF Bay have been clearing, as residues from past hydraulic mining have washed out to sea. Consequently, more light is available for photosynthesis in SF Bay water, resulting in increase phytoplankton biomass. As the bay continues to clear, the potential for serious water quality problems in terms of eutrophication and nuisance species (e.g. harmful algal blooms) is of great concern.


Research and planning are underway to put measures in place to limit the impact of nutrient discharge and higher light on the SFE and head off new regulations that may cost taxpayer billions of dollars. However, to determine the effectiveness of any measures that are employed requires access to environmental monitoring measurements made prior to, during, and after implementation.


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