Windows to the Deep: new discoveries from two years of exploration offshore the Southeastern US

Kasey Lynn Cantwell, NOAA Ocean Exploration, Silver Spring, United States, Cheryl Morrison, USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center, Kearneysville, United States, Alexis M Weinnig, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, United States, Michael Patrick White, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs, Durham, NH, United States, Amy J Wagner, California State University Sacramento, Department of Geology, Sacramento, United States, Leslie Sautter, College of Charleston, Geology and Environmental Geosciences, Charleston, United States, Stephanie Farrington, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, FAU, FL, United States and Windows to the Deep 2018 & 2019 Science Teams
The waters offshore the southeast US are some of the least explored areas on the US east coast. This region has a unique continental margin- including the extensive Blake Plateau, yet has major gaps in bathymetry data and contains numerous benthic features that are poorly understood. During 2018-2019, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and partners sponsored 6 mapping and ROV cruises onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as part of the Atlantic Seafloor Partnership for Integrated Research and Exploration (ASPIRE). These expeditions (EX1805, EX1806, EX1903 L1 & L2, EX1906, EX1907) have changed what we know about the biota and offshore resources of this region. Multibeam bathymetry revealed previously unknown intraslope terraces, karstic features, unusually flat seafloor terrain when compared to predictions made by satellite altimetry, and the geographic distribution of numerous biogenic mounds on the Blake Plateau. ROV dives (250-3,500 m) surveyed minimally explored features, including giant bedforms, coral mounds, submarine canyons and landslides, and cold seeps, which provide a variety of habitat types for benthic and mobile fauna. Many exciting observations were made- diverse and high diversity coral and sponge communities including one of the largest deep-sea coral reef habitats found to date in US waters, life history and dramatic predation events, species range extensions and sightings of rare species, and unusual fluid seepage at a seep site. Data from these expeditions are now publicly available to the science community and resource managers for additional analysis. Through 2021, NOAA and partners will continue to support ocean exploration efforts to address outstanding bathymetry gaps and science priorities in the region. This presentation will review new findings, provide context for future analysis, and demonstrate the value of collaborative community-driven exploration to address a range of science and resource management priorities.