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About the Mission 2012

Deep-water Mid-Atlantic Canyons

August 15 -October 1, 2012

Steve W. Ross and Sandra Brooke

High resolution multibeam sonar image of a shipwreck on the continental shelf near Norfolk Canyon

Figure 1: High resolution multibeam sonar image of a shipwreck on the continental shelf near Norfolk Canyon. Image courtesy R Mather, University of Rhode Island.

This is the second cruise of a four year project to study the biology, geology and oceanography of a series of canyons off the middle Atlantic coast of the US. Of particular interest are areas of hard substrate that could support deep water coral ecosystems or other unusual habitats, such as methane seeps. Another major component of this study is marine archaeology, primarily searching for historically significant shipwrecks (Figure 1).

This project represents a collaborative effort among the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Continental Shelf Associates (the BOEM contractor) and their academic partners, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (provider of ship time and equipment), and the US Geological Survey (in support of BOEM’s energy-development responsibilities). This cruise is part of the field activity for the project. The study concept, oversight, and funding were provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior, BOEM, Environmental Studies Program.

The NOAA Vessel Nancy Foster ( depart from Charleston, South Carolina on the 15th of August and head north to our study sites, which include Norfolk, Washington and Baltimore canyons off Virginia, Maryland and Delaware in water depths from 150-1400 m. The mission will be divided into three legs with connections in Norfolk, VA. The ship will return to Charleston on the 1st of October.

Target study areas

Figure 2. Major Mid-Atlantic Canyons.  Image courtesy SW Ross, UNC-W.

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 Nancy Foster this summer will focus on Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons, using the Kraken II ROV (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.

Study Areas, cruise no.1

Figure 3. Target multibeam survey boxes for this cruise, and existing multibeam sonar data (color shaded areas). Image courtesy SW Ross, UNC-W.

At night we will conduct non-ROV sampling, including box coring, bottom and mid-water trawling, deployment of four benthic landers and two moorings, multibeam mapping, and Conductivity, Temperature and Depth instrument profiles (CTDs). CTDs can also measure dissolved oxygen, turbidity, pH, and florescence, and take water samples (Figure 4). CTDs will be used extensively during this cruise to profile the water column in many locations, to collect sound velocity data used by the multibeam sonar, and to collect water samples for various analyses.

Conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) instrument

Figure 4. Conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) instrument. The gray tubes are Niskin water sampling bottles. Image courtesy SW Ross, UNC-W

The CTD data will be used to ‘characterize’ or describe environmental conditions, at different depths and locations along the canyon axis and the water samples will be used to analyze water chemistry and organic content.

The project is being conducted under U.S. Department of the Interior, BOEM, Environmental Studies Program Contract No. M10PC00100.

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