Sunday Field Trip - When Systems Collide: Examining the Intersections between Coastal Living, Geology, and Engineering

Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University


LeAnne Teruya, San Jose State University
Ellen Metzger, San Jose State University
Humans build structures to last. Nature doesn't care. What happens when our choice to live along the coast is threatened by natural geological processes? This field trip will examine the impacts humans have on coastal systems and vice versa, the impact geological phenomena have on human-made structures in coastal areas. We will travel along the San Mateo County coastline from Half Moon Bay to Pacifica examining the causes and effects of coastal uplift, erosion, mass wasting, faulting, and the famous Mavericks surf conditions. We will observe examples of engineering techniques employed to mitigate coastal problems and discuss the lengths that we will go to in order to live where we desire.


  • Departure: Departure from Stanford at 9am. Please arrive early so we can depart on time.
  • Return: The field trip is scheduled to last 6-7 hours. We plan to return by 4pm.
  • Releases: All participants will need to sign liability releases.
  • Attire: Sturdy shoes for walking. Light coat/jacket because cave temperature will be around 52-55F. Dressing in layers is recommended.
  • NOTE: There are two extended walking segments on this trip, covering distances of ~2 miles and ~1.25 miles . The longer segment requires a short but steep ascent ~200 feet up a ridge and walking on uneven trails and pathways. The shorter segment makes a slow gradual rise from beginning to end along a paved road.


  1. San Andreas Vista --Tectonic Overview
  2. Pillar Point Harbor –Coastal Erosion caused by breakwater
  3. Pillar Point Bluff
    • Seal Cove Fault
    • Mavericks Surf Break
    • Coastal Bluff walk observing landslides
    • Moss Beach Distillery – incipient landslide scarps
  4. Coastal Bluff walk to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
  5. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
    • Seal Cove Fault
    • Coastal Armoring
    • Fossils
    • Plunging Syncline
  6. Devil's Slide
    • Geology & history of bypass tunnel
    • Landslide mitigation
  7. Pacifica—Coastal Erosion, human impacts


This trip will:

  • model a phenonmena-based approach to introducing coastal processes and hazards in relation to human activity.
  • illustrate a complex system by examining examples of where the biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere collide.
  • emphasize systems thinking and how it can be applied to understanding human behavior as well as to influencing future development and construction projects.

Tentative Itinerary

  • Meet at Stanford University (location TBA)
  • Board shuttles at 8:30am
  • Leave Stanford by 9am
  • Full Day (approx. 6-7 hrs)
    • 9-9:45 am: Stanford to Half Moon Bay
    • 9:45-11: 30 am: Stops 1-5
    • 11:30 am or noon: Lunch (~30 min) likely at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, since there are picnic tables and restrooms
    • 12:30-2:30 pm: Stops 6-7
    • 2:30 pm: Depart Pacifica to return to Stanford (40-50 minutes)

Cost and Registration

Registration for the field trip is open to the first 30 people to sign up. Participants can sign up when completing their Rendezvous registration form. Cost is $70 and includes transportation and a box lunch.