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Deepwater Canyons

April 9, 2013

Year 3: April 2013 – May 2013

From Cape Hatteras to Canada, the continental slope is riddled with deep canyons that link the continental shelf to the deep sea, serving as pathways for nutrients, sediments and pollutants,. Little is known about life in the canyons’ unique habitats.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers will study the canyons, particularly Baltimore and Norfolk, over a four year period from 2010 – 2014. The results of this work will help guide the future uses of these ocean resources, which may include oil exploration, alternative energy development and intensive fisheries. The work will also assist in protecting vulnerable canyon habitats, through development of protected areas such as National Marine Sanctuaries.

3-D multibeam sonar image of Norfolk Canyon

3-D multibeam sonar image of Norfolk Canyon, looking down the axis toward the canyon mouth.

During the first cruise, scientists used multibeam sonar to create detailed maps of nearly 1,400 sq. km of the canyons and surrounding areas. The multibeam maps helped researchers identify potential sites for exploration, and the project marine archaeologist identified nine new shipwreck sites. These maps will continue to be used to guide the sampling activities of the 2013 research cruise.

A squat lobster guards its patch of Paragorgia arborea. Note the 8 tentacles per polyp.

A squat lobster guards its patch of Paragorgia arborea. Note the 8 tentacles per polyp.

During fall of 2012 the science team used the Kraken II ROV to conduct video transects, collect samples of invertebrates, fishes sediment and water, and record environmental data. The ROV was also used to explore the shipwreck targets discovered by the multibeam sonar. As expected these were the remains of the WW-I era ‘Billy Mitchell Fleet’ that were sunk off the coast of Virginia. A variety of other non-ROV sampling activities were performed, including bottom trawling and box-coring to obtain information on soft sediment habitats in the canyons and collection of water column data using a CTD instrument. The scientists also deployed four benthic landers and two moorings to collect long-term information on temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity, current speed and direction, and sediment deposition over a one year period. During May of 2013 the team will continue their work natural ecosystems and historic shipwrecks in the middle Atlantic canyons.

This study is being funded under contract to CSA Ocean Sciences, Inc. and its academic partners from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the US Geological Survey are also collaborators on this four year effort.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2011 3:23 pm

    Do you investigate something on benthic communities, especially meiofauna?

    Best regards


  2. October 2, 2012 6:18 pm

    Did you survey or visit the St Augustine Wreck?

  3. Zach permalink
    May 8, 2013 4:46 pm

    what is your favorite animal that you’ve broght up so far?

    • lizbaird permalink
      May 8, 2013 5:14 pm

      Hi Zach
      That is a tough question! There are lots of really interesting animals that we are finding out here with both the Jason and some of the trawls that we have done. There have been some beautiful sea urchins and marvelous small “squat lobsters” but I think one of my favorites last night were some large sea spiders in the class Picnogonida. They have really long legs (maybe 10 inches?) and tiny little bodies. They ones we found have long proboscis mouthparts that look a bit like a cross between and elephant trunk and a trumpet. I will try to post a picture later!

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