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The data are being used to identify bottom types—such as bedrock, gravel, sand, or mud—and organisms living on the seafloor and in the sediment.

View from the deck of a boat with equipment on it looking across the water to skyscrapers in a city.
The SEABOSS sampler on the aft deck of ocean survey vessel (OSV) Bold as the ship leaves Boston.

In August 2012, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researchers rejoined scientists and staff from their partner agencies for a second year of collecting seafloor photographs, bottom video, and sediment samples off Massachusetts. These data are being used to identify bottom types—such as bedrock, gravel, sand, or mud—and organisms living on the seafloor and in the sediment. They expand a similar dataset collected in September 2011.

The multiagency sampling survey was part of the ongoing Massachusetts Seafloor Mapping Cooperative project, an effort initiated in 2003 by the USGS and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also an important partner and contributes hydrographic data that are integrated into the maps. The overall goal of this cooperative is to determine the geologic framework of the seafloor inside the 3-mile limit of State waters by using high-resolution seafloor-mapping techniques, sediment sampling, and seafloor photography.

A map of the ocean and a coast showing big dots on the seafloor where samples were collected.
Study area off Massachusetts, showing locations of approximately 350 sampling sites where seafloor photographs, bottom video, and sediment samples were collected.

The resulting maps help scientists understand the processes that have shaped the coast and how it has evolved over time, and thereby help them evaluate the vulnerability of coastal environments to storms, sea-level rise, and long-term climate change. Accurate maps that depict the distribution of bottom types on the inner shelf provide scientific guidance for identifying sensitive areas and for appropriately siting offshore development such as sand mining, pipelines, and renewable energy projects.

The seafloor-mapping phase of the project has been extended for several more years; new mapping began in May 2013 on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard. Last summer’s sampling survey was part of the ground-truthing phase, in which researchers sample the seafloor to better understand biological communities and habitat, as well as to refine the mapping-phase products.

Dann Blackwood, Marinna Martini, Katherine Yee, and Seth Ackerman, all from the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHSC) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, joined scientists and staff from the CZM, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Massachusetts Bays Program, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the 7-day survey (August 21–27, 2012) in the coastal waters of Massachusetts. Working aboard the ocean survey vessel (OSV) Bold, a 224-foot ocean and coastal monitoring vessel operated by the EPA, they collected samples in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and north along the north shore of coastal Massachusetts to the New Hampshire border.

A collage of four photos of
Four (of more than two thousand) seafloor photographs taken by the SEABOSS during the August 2012 survey aboard the OSV Bold. Area shown in each photograph is approximately 50 to 70 centimeters (20 to 30 inches) across. Some of the organisms visible in these images are: A, clam shells, B, sand dollars (Echinarachnius parma), C, Atlantic rock crab (Cancer irroratus) and clam shells, and D, organisms attached to angular cobbles: pink crustose ("bubblegum") algae, barnacles, and chitons (Tonicella sp. [one small chiton is below center of photograph]). Identification of these organisms (and many more too small to see at publication scale) courtesy of Adrienne Pappal, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The research team used the SEABed Observation and Sampling System (SEABOSS) to survey approximately 350 sites chosen by the CZM and USGS scientists. Developed at the USGS, the SEABOSS incorporates high-resolution digital still and video cameras with a modified Van Veen sediment grab sampler to allow scientists to view the seafloor in real time aboard the ship, manually trigger the still camera, and collect sediment grab samples. After a few minutes of drifting over the seabed, the SEABOSS is lowered to the seafloor, and a sediment sample is taken. (Sample grabs are not attempted in rocky areas.) Downward-looking video is recorded to DVD and digital tape during each deployment. Upon retrieval of the SEABOSS on deck, a sediment grab subsample is collected and stored for postcruise analysis at the WHSC sediment lab. On the OSV Bold cruise, additional subsamples were collected from the grab sampler at approximately 210 sites to be postprocessed for analysis of benthic fauna (animals living on and in the seafloor sediment) by CZM.

USGS researchers worked on Bold with Bob Boeri, Marc Carullo, Emily Huntley, Chris Garby, Julia Knisel, Brendan Sprague (all from the CZM); Lisa Engler (Massachusetts Bays Program); Tay Evans and Steve Voss (both from the DMF); Marcel Belaval, Regina Lyons, and Stephen Perkins (all from the EPA); Jim Sprague and Alex Strysky (both from the DEP); and Mike Bastoni (volunteer). Bob Barton (USGS) was a tremendous help during the precruise mobilization and postcruise demobilization in Boston. We also owe a great debt of gratitude to the ship’s crew, who once again kept survey operations running smoothly and made sure we were safe, dry, and well fed during the cruise.

SEABOSS deployment from Ocean Survey Vessel Bold
Deploying the SEABOSS sampler from OSV Bold.

The successful sampling survey was a great opportunity for State and Federal agencies to work cooperatively toward understanding the marine environment of coastal Massachusetts. Results from this research cruise will be used to create and refine maps showing the characteristics of the seafloor, identify coastal and marine resources, and assist agencies in siting and permitting coastal-zone projects. This work will contribute to the goals established in the 2009 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan by providing data for efficient and comprehensive coastal and marine spatial planning and ecosystem-based management of the coastal ocean.

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