Utilizing Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) and Ocean Exploration Mapping Data for Standardized Marine Ecological Classification of the U.S. Atlantic Margin

Derek Sowers

Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, 10:00am

The United States has made a substantial investment in seafloor mapping efforts covering over 2.5 million square kilometers of the nation’s potential extended continental shelf (ECS) regions, which extend into deep ocean areas beyond 200 nautical miles from the nation’s shoreline. This study utilized ECS and other ocean exploration mapping data to generate geomorphic characterization maps encompassing over a million square kilometers of the U.S. Atlantic Margin to develop and apply methods to maximize the value of broad-scale deep sea mapping and exploration datasets for marine habitat characterization. A standardized, repeatable, semi-automated approach for classifying seafloor geomorphology units was developed and tailored to a diversity of marine landscapes. Video data collected with submersibles were utilized to ground-truth and classify seafloor biota and substrate where available. The Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) served as a unifying classification framework, representing one of the few applications of the standard to deep sea habitats. Methods were applied to recently explored regions of the Blake Plateau, documenting and quantifying the most extensive continuous cold-water coral mound province thus far reported in the literature.


Derek has been working as an Expedition Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) for the past seven years leading ocean mapping cruises on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of New Hampshire (1995) and an M.S. in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University (2000). Derek has 14 years of previous coastal research and management experience working for NOAA’s National Estuarine Re-search Reserve network and EPA’s National Estuary Program in both Oregon and New Hampshire. Derek has participated in 26 oceanographic expeditions to date spanning remote areas of the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.