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Predictive Modeling of the Distribution of Deep-Sea Corals in the Main Hawaiian Islands

Project Goal

To develop a model to predict likely locations of high densities of two species of deep-sea corals using maps of existing observations of the species of interest, areas of hard seafloor, high resolution bathymetry, and high current velocities.

Geographic Location

Main Hawaiian Islands


Occurrences and relative abundance of pink coral (Corallium secundum) and gold coral (Gerardia sp.) from videos of Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) submersible dives are added to an existing HURL database. Data on the occurrence of the deep-sea corals will then be used to look for relationships with the locations of hard seafloor, appropriate depths, and high current velocities. A relatively simple model will be developed and then tested using a subset of the deep-sea coral observation data.


Records of the presence and relative abundance of pink coral (Corallium secundum) and gold coral (Gerardia sp.) have been developed. Grids of the maximum current velocity have also been developed using output from two different models, tuned with data on current velocity changes with depth. A high resolution (10 m) grid of seafloor depths of the model area has also been obtained, and modeling efforts are underway.

Importance to Management

Model results will enable scientists to be more refined in their search for likely locations of deep-sea coral beds. Results can also be used for preliminary planning of subsea communications and power cable routes.

Fiscal Year 2010 Funding


Point of Contact

John Rooney, John.Rooney@noaa.gov

One of the working hypotheses for this project is that deep corals preferentially grow in regions of high currents. Direct observations of currents at depths of 380 530 m where the deep sea coral species of interest are known to occur are insufficient to make estimates of the speed of deep currents, so numerical model results are used instead. The figure shows maximum annual tidal current velocities for most of the Main Hawaiian Islands, calculated by a tide model.

Credit: Jim Potemra