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Analysis of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Sonar Data from Deepwater Coral Habitats

Project Goal

To analyze sonar data (sidescan and multibeam) that was collected with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) in 2008 within the Deepwater Coral Habitats of Particular Concern (C-HAPCs) and the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) in the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council region.

Geographic Location

Eastern Florida


Sonar data collected during AUV sidescan and multibeam surveys in 2008 were re-analyzed to provide higher-resolution maps of sites where deep-sea corals were discovered or suspected to be to reveal additional information on more accurate coral locations. Several of the sites that were discovered with the AUV sonar were ground truthed with Johnson-Sea-Link submersible dives during the NOAA Deep-sea Coral Cruise off eastern Florida, August 2009. Some of these sites show the greatest concentration of living coral previously seen in the western Atlantic. As a result of some interference with the original sonar data analyses, the data needs to be re-analyzed to provide the best available high-resolution maps of these sites. Additional analysis of similar AUV data was processed to characterize the distribution of deep-water habitats. In addition, the integration of centimeter-scale bathymetric and backscatter maps and ground truthing data (consisting of video transects and bottom samples taken during submersible dives) allow for habitat mapping of the deep-water reefs with unprecedented resolution.


The reprocessed data are archived at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute with Mr. John Reed. These include the georeferenced maps for the side-scan sonar, multibeam sonar, and bathymetric contours for over 60 nm2. Each dive has the following files, except for Dive 7 because only side-scan data was collected: side-scan mosaic at 1 meter resolution, contour maps at 1 meter and 3 meter resolution, and 1 meter and 3 meter contours intervals, multibeam data at 1m and 3m resolution, 3-D Tin model at 3 meter resolution and 3 meter contour intervals, and various images of 2-D and 3-D maps for general viewing using nonspecific software. There is also an overall side-scan mosaic of the 6 dives in both 3m and 5m resolution.

Importance to Management

The geo-referenced maps produced from this project identify potential deep-sea stony coral reef habitat and thus guide future research and inform management of the presence of sensitive habitats.

Fiscal Year 2009 Funding


Point of Contact

Jennifer Schull, Jennifer.Schull@noaa.gov

Multibeam of newly mapped “Reed Reef 402” which is a series of five individual reefs (depth 420 m).The colors indicate relative depth, brown is the shallowest and blue the deepest. The majority of living coral faces the current on the south slopes and peaks of these reefs.

Credit: John Reed, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute