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Researchers from USGS, NOAA, MBARI and BOEM are participating in a 10-day research expedition to assess benthic habitats and associated biota on the U.S. Pacific margin offshore Oregon and California.

The expedition is led by NOAA with funding from NOAA and BOEM, and will include deployment of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), remotely operated vehicle (ROV), sensors to measure conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD), a drop camera system, and a wave glider (to act as a communication hub for the AUV) as part of the Expanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems (EXPRESS) Campaign. The expedition will sail aboard the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, departing Newport, OR on Sept. 3 and return on September 14.

A woman stands near a table with some deep-water coral samples.
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center Research Oceanographer Nancy Prouty aboard a previous EXPRESS expedition.

The expedition is part of an ongoing interagency (NOAA/BOEM/USGS) effort under the EXPRESS campaign and will provide data and information to inform the protection of critical undersea habitats and ecosystems. This EXPRESS survey will provide a broad-scale basis for describing seafloor habitats seaward of the shelf-break from Central Oregon and Northern California. The data and subsequent analyses prepared by NOAA and USGS would be used by NOAA and BOEM in future environmental assessments, particularly to assist in appropriate implementation of offshore floating wind energy infrastructure and to inform management of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) in collaboration with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

The cruise would employ three main technologies: a bottom-tracking AUV, an ROV, and a wave glider. The USGS component of the research will rely primarily on ROV data, but also use the quantitative photographic and video surveys acquired by the ROV and AUV. The wave glider serves as a communication hub to the AUV so that the AUV can operate at a distance far enough from the Bell M. Shimada.

The overall objective of the cruise is to collect EFH baseline information, revisit previously surveyed sites to document changes over time, collect habitat information to validate cross-shelf habitat suitability models, and collect samples for isotope, taxonomic and genetic information. There is limited information about the location and community composition of ‘sensitive’ seafloor habitats (e.g., hard bottom, seeps) that may be affected by leasing activities along the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

NOAA will lead the expedition, direct movement of the vessel, and deploy the main tools. USGS researchers from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center (PCMSC) and Wetland and Aquatic Research Center (WARC) are integrated into the science party, leading field and lab work focused on characterizing the distribution, abundance, and diversity of deep-sea megafaunal communities from video imagery, as well as characterizing environmental conditions in deep-sea coral and seep habitats by collecting a suite of geochemical tracers to characterize environmental and water column properties at deep-sea coral and sponge sites.   

USGS Science Integral to EXPRESS

WARC scientists collect deep-sea sediment samples
WARC scientists collect deep-sea sediment samples

As a nonregulatory science bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts scientific research in coastal and marine environments as part of several USGS Mission Areas, including the Natural Hazards Mission Area, Ecosystems Mission Area, and Energy and Mineral Resources Mission Area in order to support scientific understanding, develop tools and technology, and provide maps, data, and other information needed by resource managers and decision-makers.

The data, tools and knowledge developed by the USGS enables DOI managers and other federal and state agencies to identify and characterize marine geohazards (earthquakes, tsunami, submarine landslides) and develop predictive tools to assess hazards and risk; forecast future resource conditions and to evaluate alternative management strategies to protect access, habitat, infrastructure and managed species; minimize conflict with existing uses and marine life; and ensure that renewable energy resources on DOI-managed lands and waters are efficiently developed in an environmentally responsible manner.  

In partnering with NOAA and BOEM, the USGS is exercising its historic and continuing role as the federal provider of mapping, monitoring and research of the national domain including offshore and submerged lands. This collaborative program increases coordination across the two bureaus and helps identify potential additional internal or external sources of support or alignment with ongoing projects or initiatives.

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