By Erik Cordes, Associate Professor, Temple University
Caitlin Adams, Web Coordinator, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
From August 19 to September 2, 2018, NOAA and partners at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will conduct a research expedition on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-operated R/V Atlantis to collect critical baseline information about deepwater habitats offshore the U.S. Mid- and South Atlantic. This expedition is part of the 4.5 year BOEM-USGS-NOAA Deep Sea Exploration and Research of Coral/Canyon/Cold seep Habitats (DEEP SEARCH) interagency project sponsored by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), with TDI-Brooks International, Inc. as the prime contractor for BOEM, and scientists from USGS and nine academic institutions participating. During this 15-day expedition, there will be daily dives using human occupied vehicle (HOV) Alvin and nighttime operations including multibeam mapping, multicore collections, and CTD casts.
DEEP SEARCH’s primary goal is to augment our ability to predict the location of seafloor communities off the coast of the Southeast United States that are potentially sensitive to disturbance. This area encompasses a variety of different habitat types, including submarine canyons, cold-water coral mounds and gardens, methane seeps, and soft sediments. We will explore and characterize the biological communities of the study area; examine their sensitivity to natural and human disturbances; and describe the oceanographic, geological, geochemical, and acoustic conditions associated with each habitat type.
Deep-sea ecosystems along the U.S. continental margin support enhanced biodiversity and sensitive biological communities, yet they remain poorly understood. The maintenance of biodiversity is critical to the function and sustainability of these deepwater ecosystems that provide numerous ecosystem services. Loss of deep-sea biodiversity could have long-term, damaging effects to large expanses of the deep seafloor, the overlying water column, and human health. Thus, we need to better understand these systems so they can be effectively managed.
Through this study, we will improve our understanding of the habitats and communities in offshore areas of the Atlantic Large Marine Ecosystem, which will augment the capacity to predict the distribution of sensitive areas with respect to the potential development of energy and marine mineral resources.
This is the third research expedition associated with this project. The first was on the NOAA Ship Pisces with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry in September 2017. This cruise was heavily impacted by weather, but scientists acquired some multibeam data and accomplished three Sentry dives in the study area. The second expedition was originally scheduled for on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, but it was cancelled due to ship repairs. That cruise had been split into two primary components: multibeam mapping and sampling with benthic lander deployments. The multibeam mapping objectives were completed by the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in May 2018, and the sampling and lander component will be conducted on the R/V Brooks McCall in October 2018.
The Okeanos Explorer cruise was highly successful, and detailed bathymetry was acquired over the southern Lophelia coral portions of the study area. These locations were selected using a combination of prior coral observation data along with the results of our preliminary predictive habitat models. The subsequent Okeanos Explorer remotely operated vehicle (ROV) mission, Windows to the Deep 2018, was co-led by DEEP SEARCH co-principal investigator Cheryl Morrison and included a number of exploratory dives to coral, canyon, and seep habitats in the DEEP SEARCH study area.
The 2018 expedition on board the R/V Atlantis with the HOV Alvin builds upon all of this work and will give the DEEP SEARCH team a chance to see and collect their first samples from the seafloor. The primary goals of this cruise are as follows:
During the 15-day voyage in and out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the team has planned for 12 dives (see sampling map) ranging from a canyon offshore the Virginia-North Carolina border to a coral mound area recently mapped by Okeanos Explorer near the Georgia-Florida line.