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Seafloor habitat mapping and classification in Glacier Bay, Alaska: Phase 1 & 2 1996-2004

December 31, 2004

Glacier Bay is a diverse fjord ecosystem with multiple sills, numerous tidewater glaciers and a highly complex oceanographic system. The Bay was completely glaciated prior to the 1700’s and subsequently experienced the fastest glacial retreat recorded in historical times. Currently, some of the highest sedimentation rates ever observed occur in the Bay, along with rapid uplift (up to 2.5 cm/year) due to a combination of plate tectonics and isostatic rebound. Glacier Bay is the second deepest fjord in Alaska, with depths over 500 meters. This variety of physical processes and bathymetry creates many diverse habitats within a relatively small area (1,255 km2 ).

Habitat can be defined as the locality, including resources and environmental conditions, occupied by a species or population of organisms (Morrison et al 1992). Mapping and characterization of benthic habitat is crucial to an understanding of marine species and can serve a variety of purposes including: understanding species distributions and improving stock assessments, designing special management areas and marine protected areas, monitoring and protecting important habitats, and assessing habitat change due to natural or human impacts. In 1996, Congress recognized the importance of understanding benthic habitat for fisheries management by reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and amending it with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA). This amendment emphasizes the importance of habitat protection to healthy fisheries and requires identification of essential fish habitat in management decisions. Recently, the National Park Service’s Ocean Stewardship Strategy identified the creation of benthic habitat maps and sediment maps as crucial components to complete basic ocean park resource inventories (Davis 2003).

Glacier Bay National Park managers currently have very limited knowledge about the bathymetry, sediment types, and various marine habitats of ecological importance in the Park. Ocean floor bathymetry and sediment type are the building blocks of marine communities. Bottom type and shape affects the kinds of benthic communities that develop in a particular environment as well as the oceanographic conditions that communities are subject to. Accurate mapping of the ocean floor is essential for park manager’s understanding of existing marine communities and will be important in assessing human induced changes (e.g., vessel traffic and commercial fishing), biological change (e.g., rapid sea otter recolonization), and geological processes of change (e.g., deglaciation). Information on animal-habitat relationships, particularly within a marine reserve framework, will be valuable to agencies making decisions about critical habitats, marine reserve design, as well as fishery management. Identification and mapping of benthic habitat provides National Park Service mangers with tools to increase the effectiveness of resource management.

The primary objective of this project is to investigate the geological characteristics of the biological habitats of halibut, Dungeness crab, king crab, and Tanner crab within Glacier Bay National Park. Additionally, habitat classification of shallow water regions of Glacier Bay will provide crucial information on the relationship between benthic habitat features and the abundance of benthic prey items for a variety of marine predators, including sea ducks, the rapidly increasing population of sea otters, and other marine mammals. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Seafloor habitat mapping and classification in Glacier Bay, Alaska: Phase 1 & 2 1996-2004
Authors Philip N. Hooge, Paul R. Carlson, Jennifer Mondragon, Lisa L. Etherington, G.R. Cochran
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Index ID 70188098
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center