US Geological Survey



Date of this Version



U.S. Government Work


Western North American Naturalist 78(4), © 2018, pp. 540–589


Marine terraces are common on the Pacific Coast of North America and record interglacial high-sea stands superimposed on either stable or tectonically rising crustal blocks. Despite many years of study of these landforms in southern California, little work on terraces has been conducted on the two smallest of the California Channel Islands, Santa Barbara Island (SBI) and Anacapa Island (ANA). Presented here are new field and laboratory data on the ages, paleontology, and sea level history of marine terraces of these two islands. On both islands, the lowest marine terraces have shoreline angle elevations of ~11 m above sea level. Amino acid geochronology shows that terrace deposits on both islands host fossils of two ages, one group dating to the ~120-ka high-sea stand and the other group likely dating to the ~100-ka high-sea stand. A mix of fossil ages is consistent with the paleontology as well, with SBI in particular showing a faunal assemblage that includes both extralimital southern and southward-ranging species (inferred to be from the ~120-ka high-sea stand) and extralimital northern and northward-ranging species (inferred to be from the ~100-ka high-sea stand). Fossil mixing from these two high-sea stands supports the hypothesis that glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) processes have left a strong imprint on the geologic record of sea level history in southern California. Nevertheless, the elevations of these terraces and that of a low terrace on Santa Cruz Island indicate that modeled GIA estimates of paleo-sea level for the peak of the last interglacial period at ~120 ka could be too high. Future development of models of GIA effects on the Pacific Coast of North America will need to consider geologic records, such as those from SBI and ANA, in refining reconstructions of sea level history.