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NCCOS Research Project

Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping, Research, and Exploration in the Southeast US Atlantic

This project began in March 2018 and is projected to be completed in May 2020

We developed a geospatial framework and online application to identify priorities for seafloor mapping along the U.S. Southeast Atlantic Coast (NC, SC, GA and FL). This project will enable federal resource agencies and participating organizations to more effectively coordinate assets, and efficiently guide future seafloor mapping, research, and exploration activities.

Why We Care

Spatial information about the geomorphology, surficial habitats, and underlying geology of the seafloor is critical for decision-making by marine research and management organizations tasked with ensuring safe navigation, sustainable fisheries, smart energy extraction, and sound ecological stewardship and conservation in U.S. coastal and ocean waters. Mapping the seafloor in the entire US Exclusive Economic Zone is a top national priority and NOAA is helping achieve this goal. Improving coordination of seafloor mapping goals among research and management organizations will result in better resource leveraging to survey seafloor areas while achieving each agency’s mandates and missions faster and cheaper.

Spatial priorities for seafloor mapping and visual surveys will be entered on the grid (right) using the spatial prioritization tool (left). Information about where, when, why and what information is needed will be saved to the grid and analyzed to find key patterns and overlap among participant needs. Credit NOAA NCCOS.

To help promote coordination in the region, NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science developed a participatory mapping and web-based tool to identify common spatial management priorities across partner organizations. This framework spatially captures and summarizes:

      • What locations are important?
      • Why are they important?
      • How quickly is data collection needed?
      • What data products are needed most?

Our approach has been successfully applied in the state of Washington, Florida, New York and Alaska, as well as regions of the Great Lakes, US Caribbean and West Coast. We plan to use this established and tested, participatory mapping process to help NOAA, other Federal and partnering organizations in the Southeast US Atlantic Coast identify seafloor mapping and prioritized seabed survey needs.

What We’re Doing

The online prioritization application will contain existing geospatial data readily available through GIS portals (e.g., essential fish habitats, habitat areas of particular concern, energy lease areas, navigation, etc.) or data provided by partners in GIS-friendly formats. The inventory of spatially relevant datasets will provide the spatial reference and context for participants to select their own high priority areas.

Participant priorities will be entered into an online portal using a process and widget developed by NCCOS. Results will be analyzed using clustering and other spatial statistical techniques to identify significant relationships between priorities, issues, and ranking criteria. Our analytical approach is similar to the one used recently in Washington State prioritization effort. Preliminary results from the prioritization process will be reviewed and finalized by partners online using “dashboard viewers”. Final results will be publicly available on an interactive map and reports. Outcomes will contribute to the national prioritization and mapping effort, through guiding fleet and resource allocation, ocean exploration mission planning, and Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping and Inter-agency Working Groups and toward national and international goals of SEABED 2030.

Benefits of Our Work

The compiled seafloor mapping priorities will (1) help organizations better understand how their priorities align with other SE US partner needs, (2) better position participating organizations to more efficiently coordinate projects, and (3) better enable partners to leverage assets and resources to fill their most pressing data and information gaps in the Southeast US coastal and outer continental shelf.

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