Sonar image showing the primary target areas for the Deepwater Mid-Atlantic Canyons Project in and around the Norfolk, Washington, Accomac, and Baltimore canyons.

The primary target areas for the Deepwater Mid-Atlantic Canyons Project are in and around the Norfolk, Washington, Accomac, and Baltimore canyons. This map shows places where deep-sea corals were previously identified (indicated by yellow and pink stars) as well as locations of previous submersible dives (green, blue, and red circles). Click image for larger view and image credit.


Mission Introduction

August 15 - October 1, 2012

Steve Ross
Research Professor
UNC-W, Center for Marine Science

The Mid-Atlantic Deepwater Canyons project is co-funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management External link(BOEM) and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The project is managed by Continental Shelf Associates,External link
and includes scientific partners from several academic institutions. The project will focus on the exploration and characterization of hard bottom communities (particularly deep-water corals), soft-bottom communities and shipwreck sites in canyons off Virginia and Maryland.  Selected shipwreck sites will be studied to determine their historical significance and their function as artificial habitat for canyon fauna. The biology and ecology of these canyons is poorly described, and they harbor significant unexplored historical artifacts. Our study will provide valuable information to regulatory agencies on distribution of sensitive areas within the canyons, as well as contributing scientific information on these ecologically important ecosystems as well as consideration in advance of any potential future energy development.

The fieldwork for this project began in June 2011 when the NOAA ship Nancy Foster conducted multibeam sonar mapping of major canyons and shipwreck sites in the study region. This cruise resulted in nearly 1,400 sq. km of detailed seafloor maps, nine new shipwreck targets, 32 environmental profiles of the water column and a shipboard outreach effort to communicate our findings to the public. Our upcoming research cruise aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster this summer will focus on Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons, using the Kraken II Remotely Operated Vehicle (University of Connecticut) to conduct video and photo transects, collect samples of invertebrates and fishes for various biological studies, deploy instruments to collect long-term environmental data and survey several archaeological sites. We will have a strong education and public outreach component to the cruise which will enable the public to follow our progress as we explore these little known ecosystems.

Participating Institutions
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
US Geological Survey


ArtWork, Inc.External link
Bangor UniversityExternal link
Continental Shelf AssociatesExternal link
Hecker Consulting
Oregon Institute of Marine BiologyExternal link
Marine Conservation InstituteExternal link
Netherlands Institute for Sea ResearchExternal link
North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesExternal link
Texas A&M UniversityExternal link
University of ConnecticutExternal link
University of Louisiana at LafayetteExternal link
University of North Carolina at Wilmington Center for Marine ScienceExternal link
University of Rhode IslandExternal link

Mission Information

Scientce Objectives
Agency Mission and the Value of Partnerships
The unique nature of the partnerships enables each agency and institution to bring its expertise and resources together to create a successful and effective team for both exploration and providing necessary applied science for the management of energy resources.

Scientce Objectives
Science Objectives
This project has a wide variety of scientific objectives that investigate biology and ecology of different types of seafloor communities, oceanography and archeological sites within and adjacent to deep-water canyons off Virginia and Maryland.

The science of Mid-Atlantic deepwater canyons
The Science of Mid-Atlantic Deepwater Canyons
Cutting deeply into the bottom and linking the shelf to the deep sea, canyons are conduits that funnel anthropogenic pollutants, organic carbon, and sediments from shallow to deeper waters.  The most southerly of these canyons (just north of Cape Hatteras) occurs in an extremely dynamic and productive area known as “The Point”.

Deepwater Hard Bottom Habitats
Deepwater Hard Bottom Habitats
Hard rocky habitats in areas of high current are often colonized by sessile benthic animals such as corals and sponges; this is true everywhere, from the shallow coastal areas to the deep sea.

Benthic Landers: Critical Tools For Use in Deep-sea Research
Benthic Landers: Critical Tools For Use in Deep-sea Research
Information, particularly long-term monitoring data, on deep-sea habitats is limited.  Detailed, longer-term data on physical variability are key to understanding unique slope habitats, such as deep-sea coral reefs and canyons, yet this information is largely lacking or is very general.  

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