USGS DISCOVRE: Benthic Ecology, Trophodynamics, Ecosystem Connectivity of Mid-Atlantic Deepwater Hard Bottom Habitats with Emphasis on Canyon and Coral Communities

Science Center Objects

Deep-sea canyons are complex environments encompassing a range of benthic habitats, including soft sediments along the axis of the canyon, and hard substrates along the canyon walls.

Baltimore Canyon, Outer continental Shelf
Baltimore Canyon, outer continental Shelf

The Science Issue and Relevance: Deep-sea canyons are complex environments encompassing a range of benthic habitats, including soft sediments along the axis of the canyon, and hard substrates along the canyon walls. While these systems may harbor substantial levels of biodiversity, they remain inadequately investigated. Deep-sea hard grounds may enhance diversity through the provision of structure and food for mobile fishes and invertebrates. However, the influence of habitat heterogeneity on benthic community structure is poorly known. In addition, understanding food webs and trophic linkages of deep-sea ecosystems is in its infancy. It is critical to understand the nature and periodicity of particle flux and the degree of trophic interactions within canyon habitats in order to evaluate ecosystem controls on abundance, biodiversity, and community function. The USGS has a long-term commitment to assist the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) meet their information needs in Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) regions. BOEM is concerned with preserving and protecting sensitive deep-sea communities as the need for oil, gas, and alternative energy exploration has increased in offshore environments. This research will enhance our understanding of the structure and function of significant biological communities and assists BOEM with identifying and delineating critical habitats in the OCS.

NOAA Research Vessel
NOAA research vessel

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: One to two ROV/submersible cruises are planned per year during the 2011-2014 program period. Sampling areas in deep-sea canyon, hardground habitats will concentrate on Norfolk, Baltimore, and Washington Canyons (300-1000 m) in the Mid-Atlantic region. In situ, quantitative samples of meio- and macrobenthic (<1 mm) communities and their environment along and across the canyon axis will be collected using specialized sampling gear. Food webs will be examined using stable isotopes of collected fauna and their primary food sources, including surface sediments, sediments traps, and filtered seawater.   

Future Steps: Mid-Atlantic canyons were mapped using multibeam in 2011 to identify hard ground habitats for sampling efforts in 2012-2014. Data collected on these cruises will determine the importance of deep-sea canyons to local and regional benthic abundance and biodiversity, and the trophodynamics of these systems. Our results will provide an important baseline dataset for future monitoring and assessment and will enable comparisons to other habitats in the Gulf of Mexico and other regions. Sample and data analysis will continue through 2016.

ROV/submersible used to sample the deep-sea canyon
ROV/submersible used to sample the deep-sea canyon

Publications

Quattrini, A.M., M.S. Nizinski, J.D. Chaytor, A.W.J. Demopoulos, E. B. Roark, S.C. France, J.A. Moore, T. Heyl, P.J. Auster, B. Kinlan, C. Ruppel, K.P. Elliott, B.R.C. Kennedy, E. Lobecker, A. Skarke, and T.M. Shank, 2015 Exploration of submarine canyons off the northeastern United States reveals dynamic habitats and diverse communities, Plos One (accepted)

Chaytor, J., Demopoulos, A.W.J., and Ruppel, C., 2013, Exploring Undersea Terrain Off the Northern U.S. Atlantic Coast Via Telepresence-Enabled Research Cruise: Sound Waves, v. FY 2014, no. 149, p. 1-4, http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2013/12/

Presentations

Demopoulos, A.W.J., Bourque, J.R., Brooke, S., and Ross, S.W., 2014, Benthic community structure at newly investigated hydrocarbon seeps on the continental slope of the western North Atlantic, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Robertson, C.M., Bourque, J.R., Duineveld, G., Mienis, F., and Demopoulos, A.W.J., 2014, Benthic community structure and function in Baltimore Canyon, USA, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Nizinski, M.S., Quattrini, A.M., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Roark, E.B., and Shank, T.M., 2014, Exploration of submarine canyons off the Northeast United States reveals dynamic habitats and diverse ecosystems, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Wagner, J.S., Ball, B., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Shank, T.M, and Van Dover, C.L., 2014, Deep-sea seep communities of Northeast US Canyons, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Roark, E.B., Prouty, N.G., Davies, A.J., Demopoulos, A.W.J., and Mienis, F., 2014, Using water column characteristics to better understand the cycling of dissolved and particulate matter in Norfolk and Baltimore Canyons, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Mienis, F., Duineveld, G., Robertson, C.M., Demopoulos, A.W.J., and Davies, A.J., 2014, Particle transport and deposition in the Norfolk and Baltimore Canyons, NW Atlantic, ASLO Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, Feb. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Prouty N.G., Roark, B., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Ross, S.W., and Brooke, S. Cold seep mussel isotopic analyses. Goldschmidt Conference, Sacramento, Calif., June 2014. [Poster presentation]

Mienis, F., Duineveld, G., Robertson, C.M., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Davies, A.J., Prouty, N.G., Roark, B., Ross, S.W., and Brooke, S., 2014, Particle transport and deposition in the Norfolk and Baltimore canyon, NW Atlantic, International Network of Submarine Canyon Investigation and Scientific Exchange, Edinburgh, U.K., Sept. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Robertson, C.M., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Bourque, J.R., Mienis, F., Duineveld, G., Davies, A.J., Ross, S.W., and Brooke, S., 2014, Distinct benthic community trends driven by an enrichment paradox in MAB canyons, NW Atlantic. International Network of Submarine Canyon Investigation and Scientific Exchange, Edinburgh, U.K., Sept. 2014. [Oral presentation]

Demopoulos, A.W.J., Robertson, C.M., Bourque, J.R., Mienis, F., Duineveld, G., Ross, S.W., Brooke, S., and Davies, A.J., 2014, Distinct Benthic Community Trends Driven by Particle Transport and Deposition in Mid-Atlantic Bight Canyons, NW Atlantic,  AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 2014. [Poster presentation]

Prouty, N.G., Roark, E.B., Davis, K., Demopoulos, A.W.J., Condon, D., Ross, S.W., and Brooke, S. Biologic Indicators of Seabed Methane Venting Along the US Mid-Atlantic Margin, AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 2014.  [Poster presentation]

Demopoulos, A.W.J., 2014, Past and future outer continental shelf projects in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, BOEM-USGS Gulf of Mexico Research and Management Coordination Meeting, New Orleans, La., Dec. 2014. [Invited oral presentation]

Prouty, N. G.; Campbell-Swarzenski, P.; Mienis, F.; Davies, A.; Demopoulos, A.; Robertson, C.; Duineveld, G.; Ross, S.; Brooke, S.: Sources of organic matter to deep-sea corals living in submarine canyons of the mid-Atlantic bight region, USA. ASLO, Granada, Feb. 2015.

Demopoulos, A. W.; Bourque, J. R.; Kovacs, K.; Phillips, R.; Robertson, C. M.: Sediment macrofaunal communities associated with hard-bottom habitats in Norfolk Canyon, USA, ASLO, Granada, Feb. 2015.

Bourque, J. R.; Demopoulos, A. W.; Stamler, K. M.; Robertson, C. M.; Mienis, F.; Duineveld, G.: Meiofaunal community structure and function in relation to sediment biogeochemistry in Baltimore Canyon, USA, ASLO, Granada, Feb. 2015.

Bourque JR, Demopoulos AWJ, Stamler KM, Robertson CM, Davies AJ, Ingels J, Mienis F, Duineveld G, Meiofaunal community structure and function in relation to sediment biogeochemistry and canyon morphology in Baltimore Canyon, western Atlantic, Deep-sea Biology Symposium, August, 2015, Portugal, Spain

Ingels J, Allcock L, Bourque JR, Demopoulos AWJ, Kiriakoulakis K, Lins L, Martin D, Robertson C, Roman S, Rueggeberg A, Vanreusel A, Wolff G, The curious tale of Astomonema in the deep sea – a chemosynthetic worm feeling at home in submarine canyons, Deep-sea Biology Symposium, August, 2015, Portugal, Spain

Robertson CM, Bourque JR, Demopoulos AWJ, Davies AJ, Mienis F, Duineveld G,  Brooke S and Ross S, Unique macrofauna community dynamics in relation to sediment biogeochemistry and canyon morphology in Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons, USA. Deep-sea Biology Symposium, August, 2015, Portugal, Spain