OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New funds will help create Oregon’s most accurate seafloor mapping system

08/12/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An allocation from the 2009 Oregon Legislature combined with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will help researchers from Oregon State University and Northwest companies create the most detailed maps of the seafloor off Oregon ever generated.

With a resolution of a half-meter or better, the maps will cover about 34 percent of State of Oregon waters and 75 percent of its rocky reefs, recording every bump, depression, reef and boulder on the seafloor from a depth of 10 meters out to three miles, the boundary of Oregon’s territorial sea.

“Developing an image of our ocean floor will help us model tsunamis, identify marine habitats, select alternative energy sites, identify geological hazards, and enhance safe and efficient marine transportation,” said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. “Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger of California, Gov. (Christine) Gregoire of Washington and I set a goal of mapping our three states’ oceans by the year 2020.

“Thanks to the strong partnership between academia, private industry, fishermen, coastal legislators and multiple state and federal agencies, Oregon is on track to reach that goal,” Kulongoski added.

Chris Goldfinger, an associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences at OSU, says the work will begin immediately and focus initially on sites from Cape Perpetua northward, including sites important for tsunami modeling, wave energy and marine reserves proposed at Cape Falcon, south of Cannon Beach; Cascade Head, near Lincoln City; and Cape Perpetua, near Yachats.

“We’ll be hiring local fishing boats and crews to help us with the surveys,” Goldfinger said, “so there will be a real Oregon flavor to the project. We should get about halfway done this summer and finish up next year.”

The project later will focus on others sites that are being evaluated for future marine reserves, including  Cape Arago/Seven Devils, south of Coos Bay, as well other rocky reef areas such as the Rogue and Blanco Reefs.

Goldfinger and his colleagues at OSU will work with David Evans & Associates in Portland on the project. OSU will use an allocation of nearly $1.3 million from the Oregon Legislature, which was part of the settlement from the cleanup of the New Carissa, a ship that wrecked off the southern Oregon coast in 1999 carrying an estimated 135,000 gallons of oil.

David Evans & Associates will be funded by a grant of approximately $4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/), which creates nautical charts and surveys. A second company, Fugro Seafloor Surveys, Inc. of Seattle, has received a separate grant from NOAA to map the southern Oregon coast. The combined project will be funded at about $7.3 million.

The project was spearheaded by coastal legislators, especially Oregon Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, whose advocacy for the project never waned, despite state and national budget shortfalls.

“They say that the third time is the charm and this was our third attempt to pass legislation to enable Oregon State University ocean scientists to finish the task of mapping the sea floor,” Boone said. “Many thanks should go to all partners for their hard work, diligence and collaboration to achieve the goal of being able to have credible tsunami inundation zone modeling, navigational charts updated, and marine, fisheries habitat and coastal hazards mapping available for multiple uses.”

OSU’s Goldfinger said that the maps have other benefits beyond siting marine reserves and developing tsunami inundation models. The detailed seafloor maps will be beneficial to Oregon fishermen, boaters, and scientists studying sea level rise, potentially catastrophic earthquakes, wave energy and other issues, Goldfinger pointed out.

“The resolution will be on a scale we’ve never had before,” he said. “We’ll be using multi-beam sonar that will give us complete coverage of the ocean floor, and will record ‘backscatter’ data that will tell us how hard the ocean floor is and whether the bottom is comprised of sand, mud or gravel.”

A second ship will follow the survey ship and use additional instruments to “ground truth” the surveys, collecting samples and recording some oceanographic data including dissolved oxygen content. These measurements will help scientists better understand ocean hypoxia – or low oxygen that has led to marine “dead zones” – and harmful algal blooms that lead to domoic acid concentrations in Oregon shellfish.

Goldfinger previously had led an effort to create an interim map of Oregon’s territorial sea and seabed habitats, with sparse existing data that showed water depths and sediment types, and can be overlaid with information about geology, habitat, buoys, seabirds, marine life and kelp beds. The map is available online at (http://pacoos.coas.oregonstate.edu/MarineHabitatViewer/viewer.aspx).

The new maps will provide more detail at a much finer scale, Goldfinger said. It is that precision that will allow scientists and decision-makers to better understand and prepare for earthquakes, tsunamis and sea level rise, as well as better manage marine resources.