Atlantic Canyons Undersea Mapping Expeditions Project Summary
Click on the image above to view a slideshow of Google Earth images showing the progressing of high resolution mapping efforts focused on the North Atlantic canyons between the summer of 2011 and summer of 2012. Blue and green areas outline ACUMEN mapping priorities. Yellow boxes outline areas included in a complementary joint NOAA-BOEM project. Slideshow includes high-resolution bathymetry acquired by NOAA Ships Okeanos Explorer, Ferdinand R Hassler, and Nancy Foster. NOAA Ship Bigelow used a towed camera system to ground-truth areas mapped by Okeanos Explorer and Hassler. Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean and NOAA priorities are addressed by both the ACUMEN and NOAA-BOEM projects.
What began as informal dialogue among NOAA and external colleagues early this year quickly evolved into a major field campaign focused on surveying the deepwater canyons along the break of the continental shelf between Virginia and New England. Between February and August 2012, we completed all five component cruises of the Atlantic Canyons Undersea Mapping Expeditions (ACUMEN) project.
In May and June 2012 alone, NOAA Ships Ferdinand R. Hassler and Okeanos Explorer spent approximately 27 days at sea collecting high-resolution bathymetry in deepwater canyons off New York and New Jersey. Shipboard personnel quickly processed the raw data into mapping products to inform the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow ground-truthing mission just two weeks later. Scientists aboard Bigelow used these maps to identify likely habitat for deep-sea corals, and deployed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s towed camera system in a subset of the canyons to directly image these sites. National Marine Fisheries Service and academic scientists are now analyzing the seafloor images to determine species diversity, geographic and bathymetric distributions, and density of corals and other associated fauna.
The complementary joint NOAA-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expedition on canyons off of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware is scheduled for August and September.
Scientists and managers identified this five-canyon area, the Tom's Canyons complex, as a high-geographic priority. Click on the image to view a slideshow of maps displaying bathymetry collected by NOAA Ships Okeanos Explorer and Hassler.
We have either fully met – or are on track to meet – all of the science, education, and outreach objectives described in the Mission Plan:
- The five expeditions initiated field efforts to support the NOAA Habitat Blueprint northeast regional initiative. Field work to support the initiative was not expected to even begin until calendar year 2013.
- By leveraging Sea Grant’s network, we identified key constituents to engage in the mapping prioritization process and recruited multiple undergraduate mapping interns were able to participate in at-sea expeditions.
- In partnership with state and regional constituents, we prioritized deepwater canyon targets and mapped more than 10,000 linear kilometers of seafloor.
- The ships mapped all or part of 36 different submarine canyons during the expeditions. The need to understand and protect these offshore areas is a high priority for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean.
- Scientists used data and products from NOAA Ships Okeanos Explorer and Ferdinand R. Hassler to guide and refine a NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow expedition just two weeks later.
- Towed camera operations from NOAA Ship Henry R. Bigelow ground-truthed mapping data and located deep-sea coral and sponge communities.
- Various data sets and products incorporating information from multiple NOAA ships with complementary capabilities have been – and are being – produced.
- NOAA and academic scientists are already using preliminary data and information from multiple cruises. A complementary multi-agency project is using data and information to better inform their fieldwork. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Fisheries Management Councils plan to incorporate these data into their management efforts. This supports the NOAA Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping mantra “map once, use many times.”
- Data collected through mid-June is already publicly available through the NOAA data centers. Data collected from mid-June through the beginning of August should be available soon. Multibeam bathymetry is available at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center.
Due to this year’s successes, there are growing calls for NOAA and our external partners to leverage this work with an ACUMEN 2013 follow-on campaign. If we can follow through on the preliminary discussions , we will use the information collected this year to fine-tune our criteria and methods to identify likely canyon habitat locations and make plans to explore and characterize additional target sites with a remotely operated vehicle.
Next year, we hope to make it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to become a ‘citizen explorer,’ sharing in real-time exploration and discovery hundreds, even thousands, or meters beneath the sea surface.
Everyone involved in ACUMEN 2012 is optimistic that a major field effort in the summer of 2013 will become a reality. We’ll keep you posted.
Scientists on the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow used a towed camera system to ground-truth areas previously mapped by NOAA Ships Okeanos Explorer and Ferdinand R. Hassler. The camera imaged this deep-sea coral, Paragorgia arborea, on the edge of Hendrickson Canyon (ca. 1,775 meters) in the Toms Canyon complex. Click on image for credit and larger view.
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