DEEP Sea Exploration to Advance Research on Coral/Canyon/Cold seep Habitats (DEEP Search)

Deepwater Atlantic Habitats II: Continued Atlantic Research and Exploration in Deepwater Ecosystems with Focus on Coral, Canyon, and Seep Communities

Lead PI: Dr. Erik Cordes, Temple University
Start Year: 2017 | Duration: 5 Years
Partners: BOEM, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, USGS, TDI Brooks International, Temple University, University of Georgia, Nova Southeastern University, Florida State University, University of New Hampshire, Harvey Mudd College & Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ)

The overarching goal for this project is to augment the ability to predict the location of seafloor communities off the coast of the Southeast US that are potentially sensitive to natural and anthropogenic disturbances. This area encompasses a variety of different habitat types, including submarine canyons, cold-water coral mounds and gardens, methane seeps, and soft sediments. Specifically, this project will explore and characterize the biological communities of the study area, examine the sensitivity of habitat-structuring fauna and associated communities to natural and anthropogenic disturbance, 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 to human health. Thus, we need to better characterize faunal and habitat distributions, determine the processes that shape patterns in population and community structure, and determine the linkages between physical, chemical, and biological processes to better understand ecosystem function. Such interdisciplinary data sets are essential for predicting organism and ecosystem-level responses to human activities in the study area and for assessing the severity of different impact types on sensitive deep-sea communities. 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.