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California Deepwater Investigations and Groundtruthing (Cal DIG) I, volume 3 — Benthic habitat characterization offshore Morro Bay, California

April 5, 2022

Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) geoform, substrate, and biotic component geographic information system (GIS) products were developed for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (U.S. EEZ) of south-central California in the region of Santa Lucia Bank motivated by interest in development of offshore wind-energy capacity and infrastructure. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), in coordination with the State of California and many other members of the California Task Force, issued calls for information in 2018 for the study area offshore of Morro Bay, California. The study area is in depths of 500 to 1,200 meters (m) and adjacent to a decommissioned nuclear power plant with a developed electric grid connection, and in an area of high wind resource. BOEM is the lead agency responsible for planning and leasing in the U.S. EEZ and funded this project to assess baseline conditions of, and the potential effects on, the seafloor environment. This project, carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), resulted in three reports: one on biological analysis of seafloor video data, one on analysis of the geologic framework and hazards, and this report on seafloor habitat. The study area consists of 8,424 square kilometers (km2) of multibeam echo sounder (MBES) data acquired during five surveys from 2016 to 2019. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video was acquired in 2019 to supervise the classification of the MBES data into habitats. Derivatives of the MBES data were classified into 16 unique biotopes, 6 substrate types, 28 modifier groups, and 22 geoforms. The study area substrate is predominantly soft sediment (mud and fine sand) covering 7,804 km2 (92.7 percent) of the area. Mixed substrate areas on rocky banks, channel scarps, and the shelf break comprise 404 km2 (4.8 percent) of the study area. Hard substrate areas are found predominantly on the tops and flanks of banks and on bank ridges that separate canyons incising the banks. Hard substrates comprise 211 km2 of the study area (2.5 percent). After the bathymetry and backscatter raster images (rasters) were classified, manual editing was also done to remove noise artifacts. This effort was not completely successful and there are numerous erroneous small areas in the rasters that have been passed on to the CMECS polygon product. Nearly 120,000 annotations of organisms and their habitat were made from 25 video transects selected from 185 hours of ROV video. In total, 2,714 km2 of seafloor were successfully assigned to biotopes. Some biotopes were assigned to separate areas spatially distant from the transects that define the biotope. Expected relations between physical habitat and biota such as the number of species and the substrate induration and rugosity were verified. Slope is typically a predictive variable and was used in the classification of habitat, but the ground truth used for biotic component analysis included very little steeply sloping area. Ground-truth ROV operations were reduced by the sea state; additional ground truth could improve the biotic results and increase confidence in the spatial distribution of classifications reported here.

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