Friday, July 6, 2012

Science Team to Begin Seafloor Mapping

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A collaboration of state scientists from several state agencies, universities, and non-profits will head fifteen miles out to sea next week to map the ocean floor off the coast of Maine and to observe sea life in the region.
Sailing on the Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s only ocean and coastal monitoring vessel – the sixteen scientists and observers hope to map as much as an 800-square-mile area off Maine’s coast at a depth of up to 300 feet.
The five-day research expedition includes scientists from the Maine Department of Conservation (MDOC), the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), and the University of Maine (UM).
It is expected to result in significant scientific information that should aide in managing multiple uses of the ocean, such as shipping, fishing, aquaculture, and energy development, as well as aid in making informed decisions on marine matters and off-shore development.
“This innovative scientific research hopefully will provide more answers than questions concerning the interaction between our land-based natural resources and the ocean floor,” said Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb.
“The Bold’s survey work in Maine will provide the Department of Marine Resources with updated data on benthic habitat in parts of the Gulf of Maine with modern mapping technology that provides much greater accuracy than previous mapping efforts, including important lobster fishing grounds and areas proposed sites for wind turbines,” said marine resources commissioner Patrick Keliher. “The DMR is mounting a multi-beam sonar system that will complement R/V Bold’s existing mapping capability and enable the DMR to obtain information in offshore areas that are difficult to reach in our smaller vessel. 
“We appreciate the efforts Sens. Snowe and Collins made to ensure this critical mapping will be conducted this summer,” the commissioner said.
“Maine’s ports are already 700 miles closer to Europe and the Middle East than are Southern U.S. ports,” Bill Beardsley, the conservation commissioner, said. “The expanded Panama Canal in 2014 will reduce the super-container ship distances from Maine ports to China by forty percent. The multiple use of our ocean resources off the Maine coast are evolving and are critical to Maine’s future global economy. We simply need to better understand our offshore submerged lands.”
Matt Nixon, Maine Coastal Program senior planner at MDOC and one of three principal investigators on the expedition, said no such collaborative research has ever before been attempted by the State of Maine.
“We want to get more accurate information about the ’lay of the land’ of the ocean, much like a surveyor does on land,” Nixon said. “A better picture of what the seafloor looks like provides us with information about marine habitats and species.”
The OSV Bold is the EPA’s 224-foot-long research vessel equipped with state-of-the-art sampling, mapping, and analysis equipment. It was docked at the International Marine Terminal in Portland before it shipped out on Tuesday, July 3. It is scheduled to return on Monday, July 9.
The vessel was able to come to Maine for the research trip through the efforts of Maine’s two senators, U.S.Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, who were able to have the Maine research added to the ship’s summer schedule. “We are very grateful to Sens. Snowe and Collins, who made this important endeavor possible,” Nixon said.
The scientific party will be led by EPA Chief Scientist Matt Liebman. The two other principal investigators are Stephen Dickson, Maine Geological Survey marine geologist at MDOC, and Carl Wilson, DMR senior lobster scientist. Other scientists and observers are from the Biodiversity Research Institute, the University of Southern Maine and the University of New Hampshire.
The scientists will be divided into three teams; eight members conducting the benthic (seafloor) mapping; two scientists making avifauna (bird and wildlife) observations; and five scientists and observers making observations of large marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.
The primary reason for the research effort, said Nixon, is because the state lacks sufficient data on the ocean floor. In 2009, the state did a needs assessment of its coastal marine data, and “the most important, and by far the largest gap is in this kind of high resolution seafloor mapping,” he said.
“All we have now are depth estimations, 19th-century lead-line soundings, and sporadic, high resolution maps focused on very specific, small locations, typically inshore,” the MDOC coastal planner said. “It will be good to have an idea of true depth out there with sound-generated pictures of what the bottom looks like.”
The scientists will issue a final report within two months after the trip, including a summary of information collected, plus maps and observations. Much of the data will be available on line as part of a coastal atlas.
“It will be exciting to get out on a research cruise like this,” Nixon said. “It will allow us to integrate our knowledge and skills with that of other professionals, enabling us to draw a more comprehensive picture of our marine environment.   
For more information about the OSV Bold, go to: For more information about the Maine Department of Conservation, go to:
For more information about the Maine Department of Marine Resources, go to: