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Microbial Ecology of Deep-Water Mid-Atlantic Canyons

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A new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Fact Sheet highlights microbiological experiments that will be conducted in submarine canyons along the U.S. east coast. This work is part of the USGS DISCOVRE (Diversity, Systematics, and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems) Project, an integrated, multidisciplinary effort investigating deep-sea communities from the microscopic to the ecosystem level. DISCOVRE is the USGS-funded component of a much larger research effort focused on the deep-water canyons off of the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast that involves the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), and numerous academic researchers. (See related article "High-Resolution Multibeam Mapping of Mid-Atlantic Canyons to Assess Tsunami Hazards," this issue.)

settling plates
Above: Experiments will be conducted by using settling plates to determine which types of microbial biofilms form on different surfaces. A, Closeup of a stack of settling plates, featuring 4-in. by 4-in. by ¼-in. limestone, steel, and sandstone settling plates; B, Stack of settling plates (arrow) deployed in deep water on a benthic lander. Photograph B courtesy of Steve Ross, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Sandra Brooke, Marine Conservation Institute. USGS Fact Sheet 2011-3102, figure 3. [larger version]

During a series of research cruises in 2012-14, samples will be collected and experiments deployed in the canyons along the mid-Atlantic bight (a coastal region running from Massachusetts to North Carolina). Characterized by swift currents and steep walls that extend miles deep, these canyons are unique ecosystems that have rarely been studied. Rocky outcrops in the canyons provide important habitat for deep-sea corals, which require hard surfaces to grow on. This study will identify and characterize the beneficial microbes associated with these corals, as well as the microbial biofilms that initially colonize hard surfaces in the canyons to prepare them for settlement by larger invertebrates, such as corals and sponges. Additionally, the microbial communities in the soft sediment on the floors of the canyons will be counted and classified to incorporate them into food web and benthic ecology studies.

The new Fact Sheet is posted at


Related Sound Waves Stories
High-Resolution Multibeam Mapping of Mid-Atlantic Canyons to Assess Tsunami Hazards
Sept. / Oct. 2011

Related Web Sites
Microbial Ecology of Deep-Water Mid-Atlantic Canyons - Fact Sheet 20113102

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Mapping Mid-Atlantic Canyons to Assess Tsunami Hazards

New System Measures Topography and Bathymetry Simultaneously

Final Beach-Erosion Survey Before Elwha River Dam Removal

Aerial Photos of Outer Banks Show Damage from Hurricane Irene

Manatee "Chessie" Sighted in Chesapeake Bay

International Team Studies Impacts of Oil and Gas Drilling on Cold-Water Corals

Natural Gas Resources Remain to Be Discovered in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Staff Interns Help Organize USGS and Map Collections in St. Petersburg, Florida

New Interns Join USGS Southeast Ecological Science Staff

Publications Publications Explain Elwha River Restoration

Microbiology of Deep-Water Mid-Atlantic Canyons

Sept. / Oct. 2011 Publications U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
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