National Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies

Science Center Objects

The Stellwagen Bank region, located off Boston, Massachusetts, just east of Massachusetts Bay between Cape Cod and Cape Ann, is a glaciated terrain of shallow banks and deep basins with water depths ranging from 20 to 200 meters. The region is heavily utilized by humans and marine species. It serves as a National Marine Sanctuary; a rich commercial and recreational fishing ground; a disposal site for dredged material; a habitat for various species of marine mammals, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale; the focus of a large tourism industry centered on whale watching; a shipping lane to and from Boston Harbor; and as a location for engineering projects, such as fiber optic and electric power cable routes, oil and gas pipelines, LNG terminals, and potential offshore wind farms.

With more diverse, intensive, and conflicting uses than ever before, it is necessary to map and analyze the physical properties and processes of the seafloor at a higher resolution than was required in the past to ensure the Stellwagen Bank region can be effectively managed in a way that maintains and enhances the environmental sustainability of these varied uses.

Map of project research in United States and Canada

Stellwagen Bank project research areas in the United States and Canada

The National Seafloor Mapping and Habitat Studies – Atlantic project, a cooperative effort supported by the Coastal and Marine Geology Program of the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Marine Sanctuary System of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, regional Fishery Management Councils, the Geological Survey of Canada, and academic scientists, has produced the first series of high-resolution seabed maps for a 630 square kilometer area of Stellwagen Bank and its adjacent basins. The maps show the distribution of geologic materials and structures that form seabed substrates (characterized by grain-size composition, surficial features, layering, and mobility) at a resolution level never before achieved, specifically 1:25,000 (meaning 1cm on the map represents 250m on the seafloor). This innovative work provides the reliable foundation needed for successful seafloor research and resource management, as mandated by the new National Ocean Policy. For example, these high-resolution maps enable stakeholders to conduct research projects and develop management policies, select pathways for engineering projects, target specific types of seabed for recreational and commercial fishing purposes, educate whale watching tourists, and identify habitats that should be protected from fishing disturbance.


 Project Goals:

  • Map the distribution of geologic materials and structures that form seabed substrates and understand the processes that produce them in order to provide a reliable foundation for sea floor research and resource management
  • Develop a geology-based methodology for identifying and classifying geological substrates
  • Provide a documented framework of natural conditions suitable for the testing and validation of sediment transport models
  • Provide maps showing the distribution of substrate properties for use by ecologists to study the requirements of species, to predict the distributions of species, and to guide Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management
  • Produce science products that are innovative and responsive to users’ needs, and make data accessible
Map of backscatter intensity and sun-illuminated topography on Stellwagen Bank

Backscatter intensity and sun-illuminated topography.  Blue= "soft" seabed, Green, orange = "hard" seabed

Summary of Stellwagen Bank Survey Data and Map Products:

  • Multibeam sonar survey 3,780 km2
  • Topographic & backscatter imagery
  • Sediment sampling
  • Video/photo imagery
  • Area divided into 18 quadrangles
  • 93 map sheets as of 2018
  • Map scale 1:25,000
  • MA Bay Disposal Site special map
Stellwagen Bank – Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site map

 Massachusetts Bay Disposal Site map, feature interpretation