Deep-Sea News

Robots Help Map England’s Only Deepwater Marine Conservation Zone

The first true three-dimensional picture of submarine canyon habitats has been produced using a unique combination of marine robotics and ship-based measurements.

 

The information captured in this new set of maps ranges in scale from the 200 km canyon down to the size of an individual cold-water coral polyp, and will be used to inform the management of the only English Marine Conservation Zone in deep water.



This ‘nested map’ is the result of a recent scientific expedition to the Whittard Canyon in the Bay of Biscay, led by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). It works in a way not unlike a set of Russian dolls, with the most detailed map sitting within a larger scale one, which sits within a larger map still.



Submarine canyons are some of the most complex deep-sea environments on this planet, and are known to be potential biodiversity hotspots. Similar to canyons on land, submarine canyons can have steep flanks, with vertical cliffs and overhanging rock formations. Until recently these parts were out of reach for traditional types of marine equipment, which made them the 'forgotten habitats' of the deep sea. By using unique robot technology to collect data in these hard-to-reach areas, the results of this expedition will lead to a better understanding of the biodiversity patterns in the canyon and of the processes that drive them.



Echo-sounders on the RRS James Cook were used to create a 200 km map of the canyon with a 50 m pixel resolution. Using a newly-developed sideways-directed echo-sounder, the Autosub6000 robot-sub, maintained by the NOC, was able to map vertical walls within the canyon with a resolution of 3-5 m per pixel. At the same time Isis, the NOC-maintained Remotely Operated Vehicle, was lowered from the RRS James Cook on a tether to record high definition video and to collect biological and geological samples from vertical and overhanging locations. Echo-sound data collected with Isis was also used to create the most detailed map of the three, with a resolution of 10-20 cm.



Dr Veerle Huvenne from the NOC, who led the 5-week expedition, said: "Our robot vehicles imaged rich communities of cold-water corals, clams, deep-sea oysters and their associated fauna, including a broad range of fish species. We also captured amazing footage of Blue Sharks and Swordfish when the Isis marine robot was traveling to and from the seabed.



The morphology of this canyon is spectacular. We have mapped cliffs up to 150 m high and 1.6 km long, in some locations down to centimeter-scale resolution. This makes us the only group in the world who currently can image vertical cliffs in the deep sea in this way.

"

The Whittard Canyon proved to be a highly dynamic environment, with strong internal tidal flows and containing deep plumes of organic-rich sediment. To study these oceanographic processes, the University of East Anglia’s robot glider was used to continuously measure the water column. Tahmeena Aslam, who was responsible for the glider from UEA, said: “Our Seaglider collected a fantastic dataset and revealed the presence of internal waves up to 80 m high; these processes are likely to have a major influence on the distribution of habitats and fauna within the canyon”.



The expedition was part of the CODEMAP project, funded by the European Research Council, and received additional support from the NERC MAREMAP program and DEFRA. Participants included researchers from NOC, University of East Anglia, University of Southampton, CEFAS, the British Geological Survey, IFREMER, National University of Ireland, Galway, and University of Aveiro.


For more information about the CODEMAP project please read the project blog at www.codemap2015.wordpress.com or take a look at the project twitter account for a series of great images @codemap2015.

Videos taken from the Isis ROV can be found here:

The Dumbo Octopus youtu.be/hZ0sjfaYqC4.

Nephorops at home youtu.be/VbVj5ZXjtQ0.

Cold water corals youtu.be/ZROdX8laj6I.

A video explaining the role of the Isis ROV within the project can be found here.

ECO Magazine is a marine science publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.

Corporate

8502 SW Kansas Ave
Stuart, FL 34997

(772)-221-7720

Newsletter Signup

Please type your full name.

Please type your full name.

Invalid email address.

All emails include an unsubscribe link. You may opt-out at any time. Clicking subscribe confirms your acceptance of our privacy policy.