URI Researchers, Students Map Underwater Habitats

The mapping of underwater habitats took place in four national park sites affected by Hurricane Sandy. (URI)

The mapping of underwater habitats took place in four national park sites affected by Hurricane Sandy. (URI)

By ecoRI News staff

University of Rhode Island researchers and students have created an interactive, multimedia story about one laboratory's work to map underwater habitats throughout several national parks along the East Coast. The Big Reveal: Developing Habitat Maps of the Seafloor of Key Coastal Natural Resources provides a behind-the-scenes look at the research and scientific process being conducted by URI oceanography professor John King and his lab through interactive maps, photos, graphics and text.

Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal communities, and its impacts on land have been well documented. However, storms of Sandy’s caliber can also alter communities on the ocean floor, and data on these crucial ecosystems has been lacking.

By creating detailed maps of submerged habitats, researchers will be able to compare these baseline data with future mapping data. The research will help scientists better understand how future storms affect these important natural environments, with far-reaching ecological, commercial and recreational implications.

“The initial step in effectively managing submerged natural resources is to have an accurate and detailed understanding of what resources you actually have,” King said. “Our project is providing that knowledge to the National Park Service for the study sites for the first time.”

Researchers used technology, such as acoustic sonars and remote-controlled underwater vehicles, to collect data, and photos videos and sediment samples to verify their results.

Mapping of underwater habitats took place in four national park sites affected by Hurricane Sandy: Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, Fire Island National Seashore in New York, and part of Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey. Submerged environments make up a significant portion of all four parks. For example, 75 percent of Fire Island National Seashore’s area is underwater.

This research was funded as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s post-Hurricane Sandy recovery and mitigation projects.

Researchers and students from King’s lab in the URI Graduate School of Oceanography and from URI professor Caroline Gottschalk Druschke’s Society, Ecology & Communication Laboratory collaborated to create the multimedia story.