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California Seafloor Mapping Reveals Hidden Treasures



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Science and technology have peeled back a veil of water just offshore of California, revealing the hidden seafloor in unprecedented detail. New imagery, specialized undersea maps, and a wealth of data from along the California coast are now available. Three new products in an ongoing series were released on August 9, 2013, by the U.S. Geological Survey—a map set for the area offshore of Carpinteria (about 120 kilometers [75 miles] northwest of Los Angeles), a catalog of data layers for geographic information systems, and a collection of videos and photos of the seafloor in State waters along the entire California coast,

“A program of this vast scope can’t be accomplished by any one organization. By working with other government agencies, universities, and private industry, the USGS could fully leverage all its resources,” said USGS Pacific Region Director Mark Sogge. “Each organization brings to the table a unique and complementary set of resources, skills, and know-how.”

The USGS is a key partner in the California Seafloor Mapping Program: a large, unique, and historically ambitious collaboration between State and Federal agencies, academia, and the private sector to create a comprehensive base-map series for all of California’s ocean waters. Scientists are collecting sonar data, video and photographic imagery, seismic surveys, and bottom-sediment data to create a series of maps of seafloor bathymetry, habitats, geology, and more, in order to inform coastal managers and planners, government entities, and researchers. With the new maps, decision makers and elected officials can better design and monitor marine reserves, evaluate ocean energy potential, understand ecosystem dynamics, recognize earthquake and tsunami hazards, regulate offshore development, and improve maritime safety.

Clicking on a trackline starts video in left window and associated photographs in right window.
Explore the seafloor through the California Seafloor Mapping Program Video and Photograph Portal.
Above:
Interactive map (here with added labels) allows viewers to zoom into areas of interest; video tracklines appear in purple and photograph locations (dots) in red. (At scales shown here, red dots are too closely spaced to distinguish.)

Below: Clicking on a trackline starts video in left window and associated photographs in right window. This example—sand ripples at a depth of approximately 15 meters (49 feet)—is from a trackline just offshore of Half Moon Bay, California. Two green dots in the video window (from lasers mounted on the camera and used as reference points) are 15 centimeters (6 inches) apart; likewise the red dots in both windows. (Dots are easier to see in online images.) High-resolution versions of the photographs can be viewed by clicking “View original” below photograph window. [larger version]

“The Ocean Protection Council recognized early on that seafloor habitats and geology were a fundamental data gap in ocean management,” said California’s Secretary for Natural Resources and Ocean Protection Council Chair John Laird. “After an impressive effort by many partners to collect and interpret the data, the maps being produced now are providing pioneering science that’s changing the way we manage our oceans.”

“Our collaboration with the State and more than 15 other partners is critical to the success of this program. We’ve come together to make the maps, and then to use them. We all like to say that you can’t manage it, monitor it, or model it if you don’t know what the ‘it’ is, and our seafloor mapping gives that important ‘it’ to the entire coastal management and research community,” said the USGS’ lead researcher on this project, Sam Johnson.

USGS California Seafloor Mapping Program Map Series

The heart of the USGS California Seafloor Mapping Program effort is a series of map sets. To date, three sets have been published, including the most recent one released in August covering the area “Offshore of Carpinteria,” USGS Scientific Investigations Map 3261. Each of the map sets includes 10 or more sheets illustrating different features of the seafloor, including geology, bathymetry, and habitats within the 3-nautical-mile limit of California’s State waters. The maps are created through the collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar data, acoustic backscatter, seafloor video, seafloor photography, high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles, and bottom-sediment sampling data. Fourteen other map sets are being formatted for publication; the California State Waters Map Series is planned to comprise 83 such seafloor map sets spanning the entire coast of California.

Map B from Sheet 9 of USGS Scientific Investigations Map 3261, California State Waters Map Series.
Above: Map B from Sheet 9 of USGS Scientific Investigations Map 3261 (California State Waters Map Series—Offshore of Carpinteria, California), showing thickness of uppermost Pleistocene and Holocene sediment, from (in this view) white (0–0.1 meters [0–0.3 feet]) to orange (45–47.5 meters [154–156 feet]). Additional information and links to pamphlet and all 10 sheets are available at the link above . [larger version]

USGS California Seafloor Mapping Program Data Catalog

Underlying the series of published seafloor map sets are large geospatial digital files, including bathymetry, acoustic backscatter, offshore geology and geomorphology, faults, folds, potential marine habitats, seafloor character, sediment thickness, visual observations of bottom habitat from video, and more. These data sets are now available through a new California State Waters Map Series Data Catalog for users to create their own maps or engage in further investigations of the seafloor. The catalog, USGS Data Series 781, provides all geographic-information-system (GIS) data layers associated with the map sets published by the California Seafloor Mapping Program. Data will be continually added to the data series catalog as new seafloor map sets are published.

USGS California Seafloor Mapping Program Video and Photograph Portal

The unique set of seafloor images (video and still photography) collected by the USGS from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Oregon State line is now available via a new California Seafloor Mapping Program Video and Photograph Portal. More than 500 hours of video and 87,000 photographs were collected and are now posted in the online portal for viewing. Scientists are using these data to ground-truth their interpretations of sonar data, to provide a framework for understanding seafloor ecosystems, and to create maps of seafloor materials and habitats. The video and photo portal is based on an interactive map that allows users to zoom into a particular area and see the imagery available (see example above). The video and still photographs of the same locations are displayed simultaneously, just as they were acquired along the trackline.

Kelp greenling fish swimming above a seafloor of mixed gravel, cobble, and rock outcrop with scattered shell.
Above: Kelp greenling fish swimming above a seafloor of mixed gravel, cobble, and rock outcrop with scattered shell. Fish is approximately 20 centimeters (8 inches) long. Photograph acquired 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) offshore of Half Moon Bay, California (on same trackline as images above), at a depth of 14 meters (46 feet). Also in the photograph are encrusting sponges, red algae (seaweed), and orange cup corals. [larger version]

The California Seafloor Mapping Program is a collaborative effort supported by the USGS, the California Ocean Protection Council, NOAA, California State University Monterey Bay, and many other academic, government, and industry partners.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Ground-Truthing Data for Mapping of Seafloor Habitat and Geology along the California Coast
December 2009

Related Websites
California Seafloor Mapping Program
USGS
California State Waters Map Series
USGS
California Seafloor Mapping Program Video and Photograph Portal
USGS
California State Waters Map Series—Offshore of Carpinteria, California
USGS—Scientific Investigations Map 3261
California State Waters Map Series Data Catalog
USGS—Data Series 781
Data Collection
USGS
Mapping California’s Seafloor
CA.GOV

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Fieldwork
cover story:
Changing Coral Reef Ecosystems Along West Maui

California's Sea Otter Numbers Continue Slow Climb

Research Experts Team Up on Tsunami Resilience in California

Historical Quake and Early East Coast Seismicity

Sea Otters Promote Recovery of Seagrass Beds

Meetings
2013 Meeting of the Curators of Marine and Lacustrine Geological Samples Group

Publications California Seafloor Mapping Reveals Hidden Treasures

Proceedings of the Workshop on Probabilistic Flood Hazard Assessment

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