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CMG Multibeam Map Guides Sustainable Seas Exploration in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

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Location of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Location of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary; sanctuary boundaries shown in orange. From the Sustainable Seas Expeditions Web site.
Every summer, eight nights after the full moon in August, corals begin to spawn in the Gulf of Mexico's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, an area of coral reefs about 100 miles south of Galveston, Texas. This summer, CMG's Jim Gardner was there, using his 1997 multibeam map of the sanctuary to show marine biologists the locations of the spawning corals as they observed them. While an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) equipped with a video camera cruised over the seafloor, Jim conducted a virtual fly-through of his multibeam bathymetry, tracking the ROV's location on the bathymetry in real time. For the first time, it was possible for scientists to pinpoint the location of seafloor features at the very moment they were observing and videotaping them.

This work was part of the Sustainable Seas Expedition, a five-year project conducted by the National Geographic Society in cooperation with NOAA and other research organizations to explore and study the United States' National Marine Sanctuaries. A particular goal of the expedition to Flower Garden Banks was to observe the annual coral spawning in deep water, something that had never been done before. Using the ROV (the seas were too rough for the DeepWorker submersible that would otherwise have been used) and Jim Gardner's multibeam bathymetry data, the expedition team documented coral spawning for the first time around the bottom of the reef, at depths of 39 to 42 m.

When the Sustainable Seas Expedition explores Hawaii's Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary next January, they will once again use Jim's multibeam bathymetry data-this set collected in 1998. Jim and his specialized computer equipment won't be onboard this time; he has trained a NOAA scientist to use the data on Sustainable Seas computers. Although the expedition team will not be able to conduct fly-throughs of the data, they will be able to track the DeepWorker submersible and ROV in real time.

To learn more about the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, or to see more CMG multibeam maps from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, check out the Related Web Sites at the end of this story. And watch for the National Geographic Society's television series, "Sea Stories," for which videographers from the Society were collecting footage during the Flower Garden Banks expedition.

shaded-relief map of Flower Garden Banks National marine Sanctuary shaded-relief map of Flower Garden Banks National marine Sanctuary
Flower Garden Banks, generated from data collected by Jim Gardner in 1997. Yellow dots show locations of dives planned for last September's Sustainable Seas Expedition. The actual dive sites were somewhat different because of weather and logistics.

Related Web Sites
Pacific Seafloor Mapping Project
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Sustainable Seas Expeditions
NOAA/National Geographic

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