Home > Explore News > Research Expedition Explores Gulf of Maine Near Proposed Offshore Wind Energy Lease Areas

Research Expedition Explores Gulf of Maine Near Proposed Offshore Wind Energy Lease Areas

Published on: 07/10/2024
Primary Contact(s): james.morris@noaa.gov

From May 30 to June 9, NOAA and partners spearheaded a research expedition east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to gather data to support informed decision-making about offshore wind energy leasing. The collaborative expedition was led by NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI), in partnership with NOAA Ocean Exploration and the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, and funded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of Coast Survey.

Map of Gulf of Maine proposed sale lease areas

Lease blocks in the Gulf of Maine where the mapping expedition team gathered baseline data in time for upcoming offshore wind lease sale decisions.

Earlier this year, the NOAA team identified the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) lease blocks 0567 and 0568 as top priorities for mapping and habitat data collection in the Gulf of Maine. These areas, highlighted as "extremely urgent" after extensive prioritization by federal and state partners, required immediate attention because of the critical need for baseline data in time for upcoming offshore wind lease sale decisions.

The expedition team used advanced multibeam echo sounder sonar technology provided by Kongsberg Discovery to collect bathymetric (seafloor topography), backscatter (seafloor texture), and water column data to identify potential sensitive or vulnerable hard-bottom features that are home to deep-sea corals and other habitats. These maps will help NOAA create species distribution models for the region, which guide researchers to likely locations of coral habitat and inform fishery management decisions. The Gulf of Maine is an ecologically important area that has historically lacked such information. These new maps not only support habitat discovery and offshore wind project planning, but also contribute to updating navigational charts and enhancing maritime safety.  

Side by side images showing seafloor topography and seafloor texture of the same mound.

Left: results of multibeam bathymetry (seafloor topography) illustrating a previously unknown mound, approximately 1500 meters in width, that will be investigated on a follow up expedition. Right: multibeam backscatter (seafloor texture) results from the same area, where the white top of the mound is an area of highly reflective backscatter suggesting a rugged hard bottom and the darker shading around it suggests sand or gravel sediment. Backscatter texture is a measure of how reflective the seafloor is to sonar. Greater seafloor response, or reflection, suggests harder or more rugged seafloor texture. Linear glacial ice contact patterns are also visible in both images.

The expedition revealed areas of hard bottom seafloor, which could indicate coral or sponge habitat. It also mapped fascinating underwater features, including glacial scour marks that appear as huge gouges in the sediment. Further data processing and visual surveys are needed to confirm actual habitat types and to identify evidence of human activity. NOAA is currently planning multiple expeditions to more fully characterize the results of this exploration. All collected data will be archived and publicly available through the National Centers for Environmental Information

two young men sit in front of three computer screens showing seafloor mapping data

Undergraduate students, Gavin Leeland (left) and Timothy Melendez (right), from the University of Rhode Island and the Community College of Rhode Island, respectively, learned how to use mapping equipment on Research Vessel Connecticut in June 2024. Training students helps develop future hydrography and ocean mapping skills in the U.S. workforce.

Expedition results informed NOAA Fisheries’ recommendations to BOEM to refine final offshore wind lease areas. Early incorporation of habitat data is critical to help avoid impacts to sensitive marine environments from future renewable energy development. 

This expedition was made possible by partnerships with the University of Connecticut, the University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook University, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, Meyer Hydrographic, LLC, and Kongsberg Discovery. Kongsberg installed, calibrated, and donated mapping equipment for the expedition. These results exemplify the power of partnerships in advancing scientific research and supporting sustainable energy development.

Woman deploys CTD over back of research vessel, sunset is visible in the background

R/V Connecticut crew taking measurements of ocean characteristics to inform mapping results. These measurements must be taken multiple times per day to ensure seafloor maps are accurate.

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