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In this 2013 photo from the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition, cup corals and bubblegum corals reside on the hard substrate near the edge of a mussel bed. Photo credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Science

Scientists beginning a new four-and-a-half year study of deep-sea coral, canyon, and gas seep ecosystems in the mid- and south Atlantic depart from Norfolk, Va., on September 12. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are collaborating on the study, which will shed light on little-known natural resources of the deep ocean off the United States' Southeast coast.

Traveling aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, an interdisciplinary team of researchers will spend about three weeks at sea exploring geological processes and biological features—such as corals and naturally-occurring gas seeps, and the organisms that inhabit them—in deepwater habitats between 30 and 130 miles offshore North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The upcoming expedition will survey Keller Canyon, Pamlico Canyon, Hatteras Canyon, and several unnamed canyons, seeps, and hardbottom features using the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry owned by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Researchers will use a variety of AUV sensors and ship-board instruments to characterize the surface and sub-surface of the sea floor and map it in high resolution. They will collect samples from the water column and seafloor sediment samples and create a database of the seafloor locations of deep-sea communities, including corals, sponges and organisms that inhabit gas seeps. The study will eventually encompass sites between Virginia and Georgia, with future expeditions planned for 2018 and 2019. Read more ...

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