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Marine benthic habitat mapping of the West Arm, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

July 9, 2013

Seafloor geology and potential benthic habitats were mapped in West Arm, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, using multibeam sonar, groundtruthed observations, and geological interpretations. The West Arm of Glacier Bay is a recently deglaciated fjord system under the influence of glacial and paraglacial marine processes. High glacially derived sediment and meltwater fluxes, slope instabilities, and variable bathymetry result in a highly dynamic estuarine environment and benthic ecosystem. We characterize the fjord seafloor and potential benthic habitats using the recently developed Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NatureServe. Due to the high flux of glacially sourced fines, mud is the dominant substrate within the West Arm. Water-column characteristics are addressed using a combination of CTD and circulation model results. We also present sediment accumulation data derived from differential bathymetry. These data show the West Arm is divided into two contrasting environments: a dynamic upper fjord and a relatively static lower fjord. The results of these analyses serve as a test of the CMECS classification scheme and as a baseline for ongoing and future mapping efforts and correlations between seafloor substrate, benthic habitats, and glacimarine processes.