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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

National Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies: Pacific


The health of offshore marine and lacustrine ecosystems, fish stocks, and the fishing industry is of major national importance. The issue is complex and involves many environmental parameters, including geologic aspects of the sea floor such as the nature and stability of seabed sediment and the distribution and character of rock exposures. A 2001 workshop identified the following national goals:

The project addresses habitat issues in areas identified as high priority through discussions with DOI (BRD, MMS, FWS, NPS) and collaboratively with by NOAA (NMFS, NMS) and the nation's regional Fishery Management Councils. By linking geologic studies with fisheries and benthic biology research to allow for better fisheries and environmental management with an emphasis on MPAs. Large scale benthic habitat maps for the EEZ from California to Washington State are being developed at this time. These maps are being compiled using a subset of available geophysical and geologic information some of which has been shown to lack the quality required to resolve habitat features essential to fish (Cochrane and Lafferty, 2002) This project is collaborating with other agencies to procure funding and is collecting high resolution geophysical data, imagery, geological samples, and mining existing databases to improve the habitat classification in high priority areas such as proposed MPA's.

Example of mapping off-shore of Half Moon Bay, CA. Click for larger version.
Seafloor character map, Half Moon Bay, CA. Click for larger version, 1.2 MB


Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California



The National Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies Project: Pacific strives to produce maps and geologic information that are useful for marine resource management. The project utilizes traditional data collected by the Program including sampling, bottom video, sidescan sonar, and multibeam sonar data. The project develops new methods of combining these data to produce habitat and surficial geology maps. The project maintains collaborations with in partnership with NOAA, NPS, MMS, EPA, DOE, DOD, other national and state agencies, and the Biology and Water disciplines of the USGS to obtain funding for multibeam mapping operations. Methods of classification and display of sonar, video, and possibly lidar data will be developed. Existing sampling data are compiled in usSEABED, a relational database, of integrated quantitative and verbal data on seabed texture, composition, and geophysical properties for the continental shelves of the US in conjunction with additional funding from the Marine Aggregates project. These data can then be accessed for each area being mapped by the project as well as by outside searchers.

Photo of brittle stars on the seafloor.Approach

We are working with other DOI agencies, NOAA/NMS and NOAA Fisheries to collect seafloor mapping data and groundtruthing information to expand our mapping of the U.S. west coast nearshore waters. We provide mapping and geologic expertise, and collaborate with Moss Landing Marine Lab to standardize the Essential Fish Habitat Map Series. We are studying surficial processes that cause change effecting essential fish habitat.

Tasks and SubTasks

Products & Publications

Small clip of USGS SIM 3254, Offshore Ventura Seafloor Character.

Seafloor Character, Offshore of Ventura Map Area, California, Sheet 5 from USGS SIM 3254,California State Waters Map Series—Offshore of Ventura, California







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Page Contact Information: Laura Zink Torresan
Page Last Modified: 31 March 2014 (lzt)