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Quaternary Paleoceanography of the California Margin

Over the past 20 years, we have investigated the amazing super-high-resolution record of Quaternary climate and oceanographic change from the Santa Barbara Basin, offshore of central California. This work started with a long core recovered by the R/V JOIDES Resolution (1992), then expanded with a set of cores taken on board the French research vessel Marion Dufresnes (2002) and expanded with an innovative coring expedition onboard the R/V Melville (2005) under the auspices of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), International Past Global Climate Changes Study (IMAGES), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CSULB team onboard the Research Vessel Melville
Dr. Behl and the CSULB team onboard the Research Vessel Melville.

Our research group and colleagues employ sedimentologic and paleoceanographic methods (grainsize, mineralogy, geochemistry, ichnofabrics, microfossils, carbonate and carbon content, and stable isotopes) to understand changes in the ancient California Current System. We have discovered amazing and important fluctuations in climate and environment that have taken place over the past 60,000 years, as well as clues to what may have influenced their occurrence and timing. These studies have documented dramatic and rapid changes in bottom water oxygenation, sea-surface temperature, productivity, and organic matter preservation during the late Quaternary that correlate with variations in global climate change.

laminated core from Santa Barbara basin
Laminated core from the Santa Barbara basin.

Relevant Papers

  • Dean, W.E.; Kennett, J.P.; Behl, R.J.; Nicholson, C.; Sorlien, C.C.; 2015. Abrupt termination of Marine Isotope Stage 16 (Termination VII) at 631.5 ka in Santa Barbara Basin, California, Paleoceanography, doi: 10.1002/2014PA002756.
  • Moffitt, S.; T. Hill; K. Ohkushi; J. P. Kennett;  R.J. Behl, 2014. Vertical oxygen minimum zone oscillations during the last 20 kyr in Santa Barbara Basin: A benthic foraminiferal community perspective, Paleoceanography, doi: 10.1002/2013PA002483.
  • Ohkushi, K., Kennett, J.P., Zeleski, C.M., Moffitt, S.E., Hill, T.M., Robert, C., Beaufort, L., and Behl , R.J. (corresponding author), 2013, Quantified intermediate water oxygenation history of the NE Pacific: A new benthic foraminiferal record from Santa Barbara basin, Paleoceanography, 28:453-467, doi: 10.1002/palo.20043.
  • White, S.M.;  Hill, T.M.,; Kennett, J.P., Behl , R.J.; and Nicholson, C., 2013. Millennial-scale variability to 735 ka: High-resolution climate records from Santa Barbara Basin, CA, Paleoceanography,  v. 28, p.1–14, doi: 10.1002/palo.20022.
  • Kaufman, D.; Cooper, K.; Behl, R.; Billups, K.; Bright, J.; Gardner, K.; Hearty, P.; Jakobsson, M.; Mendes, I.; O'Leary, M.; Polyak, L.; Rasmussen, T.; Rosa, F.; Schmidt, M., 2012. Amino acid racemization in mono-specific foraminifera from Quaternary deep-sea sediments, Quaternary Geochronology, v. 16, p. 50-61. doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2012.07.006.
  • Behl, R.J., 2011. Glacial demise and methane's rise, Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences, Published online 4 April 2011; Issue 15, v. 108, p. 5925-5926. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1101146108.
  • Nicholson, C., Kennett, J., .Sorlien, C., Hopkins, S., Behl, R., Normark, W., Sliter, R., Hill, T., Pak, D., Schimmelmann, A., and K.Cannariato, 2006. Extending the High-Resolution Global Climate Record in Santa Barbara Basin, EOS, v. 87, no. 21 (23 May 2006), p. 205, 208.
  • Hall, D.C., and Behl, R.J, 2006. Integrating Economic Analysis and the Science of Climate Instability, Ecological Economics, v. 57, p.442-465.

Masters Theses

  • Marshall, Courtney J.; 2012. Sedimentation in an active fold and thrust belt, from 1 Ma to present, Santa Barbara Channel, California.
  • Afshar, Sara; 2011. High-resolution windows into abrupt and millennial-scale changes in climate and ocean since the mid-Pleistocene transition, Santa Barbara basin, California.
  • Peterson, Carlye D.; 2011. Orbital- to sub-orbital-scale cyclicity in seismic reflections and sediment character in early Pleistocene mudstone, Santa Barbara, California.
  • Escobedo, Diane K.; 2009. Extreme erosional events recorded by flood deposits in the late quaternary Santa Barbara Basin, coastal southern California.
  • Zeleski, Cathleen M.; 2004. Climatic and environmental controls of organic carbon accumulation on the California continental margin: A comparison of deep and shallow sites in the Late Quaternary Santa Barbara Basin.

Undergraduate Projects

  • 2002 – Julia Frazier: Time Slice Reconstruction of Bathymetry and Shoreline, Santa Barbara Channel Area
  • 1997 – Ron M. Morris: Quantitative analysis of ichnofabrics, ODP Site 1016


This research has been supported by several grants from the National Science Foundation and benefited from the efforts of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) and International Past Global Climate Changes Study (IMAGES).