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Fieldwork

Interdisciplinary Exploration of Seamounts in the Anegada Passage, Northeast Caribbean



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Seamounts in the Anegada Passage, northeast Caribbean, were the focus of a September 2014 research expedition to characterize their geology, geomorphology, and ecology, including deep-sea coral habitats and associated communities. The September cruise was a follow-up to the first-ever remotely operated vehicle (ROV) exploration of the Anegada Passage that took place in October 2013 (see “Earthquake, Landslide, and Tsunami Hazards in the Northeastern Caribbean—Insights from a 2013 E/V Nautilus Expedition,” Sound Waves, May / June 2014). A team of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists (Amanda Demopoulos, Jennifer McClain-Counts, Jill Bourque, Brian Andrews, Shannon Hoy, and Jason Chaytor) and collaborators from Temple University (Erik Cordes and Alex Barkman) returned to the region from September 3–13, 2014, to collect a wide range of detailed data about this little-explored submarine world.

Map of the northeast Caribbean, showing the extent of previously collected and new bathymetric data and location of the seamounts targeted as part of the project
Above: Map of the northeast Caribbean, showing the extent of previously collected (colored) and new (gray) bathymetric data and location of the seamounts targeted as part of the project. Red boxes highlight locations visited by the dual-body (Hercules and Argus) remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system during the September cruise. Close-up view of Dog Seamount, as revealed by the new bathymetric data, is shown in the inset. [larger version]

The interdisciplinary expedition, led by co-chief scientists Amanda Demopoulos (USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center) and Jason Chaytor (USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center) on the Ocean Exploration Trust’s exploration vessel (E/V) Nautilus, examined several unexplored seamounts. These undersea mountains punctuate the seafloor within the Anegada Passage (see map, above), providing an extensive record of the regional geologic, biologic, and oceanographic processes. Seamounts are topographically and oceanographically complex, with environmental characteristics (such as substrate types, carbon flux, and current patterns) that differ greatly, both within and among seamounts. Variable environmental conditions may influence faunal community structure among seamounts; yet, to our knowledge, no studies to date have examined these factors across multiple spatial scales of a seamount chain.

Yellow sea star perched on the long spicules of a sponge Brisingid sea stars, sponges, and corals are using this debris block as a home
Above Left: Yellow sea star perched on the long spicules of a sponge, Dog Seamount. Photograph taken by ROV Hercules. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust—Seamounts of Anegada Passage. [larger version]

Above Right: Brisingid sea stars, sponges (white and dull yellow), and corals (branching yellow and orange, right side of block) are using this debris block (coated with dark iron-manganese hydroxide) as a home. This block was located within a prominent debris field at the base of the western slope of Dog Seamount. Photograph taken by ROV Hercules. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust—Seamounts of Anegada Passage. [larger version]

Three of the five targeted seamounts—Dog, Noroît, and Conrad seamounts—were investigated using two ROVs that operate in tandem, Hercules and Argus. In addition, high-resolution multibeam bathymetry (seafloor depth) data were collected throughout the cruise to shed light on the recent geologic (for example, sediment transport) and tectonic (for example, fault rupture) development of the seamounts and the surrounding transition zone between the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles. More than 170 rock, sediment, invertebrate, and water samples were collected during the seven dives of the cruise; these will be analyzed by project partners mentioned above and additional USGS and academic collaborators: Nancy Prouty, Cheryl Morrison, and Andrea Quattrini of the USGS; Martha Nizinski of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Scott France of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; and Tim Shank of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Visual observations made during each dive revealed information on the distribution and abundance of deep-sea corals, fishes, and associated invertebrates, plus the fine-scale geomorphic, lithologic, and stratigraphic nature of these bathymetrically complex features. Future analysis of video footage and samples obtained during the dives will be used to examine the degree to which these organisms depend on specific habitat features, and will allow for the characterization of the faunal communities associated with seamounts, including corals, squat lobsters, and macrofauna that live in the sediment. In addition, comparisons of faunal-habitat associations on seamounts in the Anegada Passage with associations in other regions will advance the understanding of habitat specialization in the deep sea and the role seamounts play in providing habitat for deep-sea fauna.

Several unknown species of corals were documented on these seamount dives
Above: Several unknown species of corals were documented on these seamount dives. Here is a large unknown species of black coral (Antipatharian) with multiple brittle stars (Ophiuroids) coiled around its branches. Photograph taken by ROV Hercules. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust—Seamounts of Anegada Passage. [larger version]

Diverse fauna were observed occupying a rock at the summit of Dog Seamount
Above: Diverse fauna were observed occupying a rock at the summit of Dog Seamount, including a sharktooth moray eel (Gymnothorax maderensis), several species of corals (scleractinians and octocorals; branching white, pink, and orange colonies), yellow and orange crinoids, and a basket star (light pink, right of top-center). Photograph taken by ROV Hercules. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust—Seamounts of Anegada Passage. [larger version]

Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules inspecting rock outcrops and attached fauna along the eastern flank of Conrad Seamount
Above: Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules inspecting rock outcrops and attached fauna along the eastern flank of Conrad Seamount. Photograph taken by ROV Argus. Image courtesy of Ocean Exploration Trust—Seamounts of Anegada Passage. [larger version]

The cruise was streamed live via the Internet 24 hours a day. Scientists on the ship interacted daily with school groups and visitors at museums and aquariums (U.S. and international), discussing their discoveries in real time and highlighting the excitement, difficulty, and importance of working in the deep sea. Additionally, Chaytor and Demopoulos were interviewed during the cruise by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, to kick off the aquarium’s Star Spangled Spectacular event; view the interview on Google+. We would like to thank the entire crew of the Nautilus and the 31 members of the science party, all of whom made the cruise a success. This research was funded through a competitive award from NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research 2013 Federal Funding Opportunity, with additional support from the USGS.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Earthquake, Landslide, and Tsunami Hazards in the Northeastern Caribbean—Insights from a 2013 E/V Nautilus Expedition
May / June 2014

Related Websites
Hercules (ROV) and Friends
NOAA
Exploration Vessel Nautilus
Ocean Exploration Trust
Exploring Our Underwater World!
Google+

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in this issue:

Fieldwork
Atlantic Margin Expedition Combines Landslide Studies with Mapping

Exploration of Seamounts in the Northeast Caribbean

Mapping Coastal Changes in Monterey Bay to Aid Planning for Future Storms

Spotlight on Sandy
USGS Joins the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Resilience Institute

New Researcher Studies Coastal Sediment Changes Using 3D Modeling

Research
Interested in Naming Undersea Features?

USGS Ocean Data Ambassador Announces New Website

Shells from Deep Arctic Ocean Sediment Reveal a New Clam Species

Outreach
USGS Field Trip for Attendees at U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting

USGS Staff Aid Community Clean-Up—Kickoff Event for BLUE Ocean Film Festival

Meetings
Workshops on the California Seafloor and Coastal Mapping Program

Publications
Nov. / Dec. Publications

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