What Lies Beneath: The First Multi-Beam Sonar Map of Roatán

Aaaand we’re back! Wow. It’s been over six months since our last dive – time has absolutely flown. While there was some talk of dives in January, ultimately the busy season turned out to be, well, busy. As Roatán eases into shoulder season, Karl and I are anticipating a heavy exploration and filming period in the next few weeks.

We’re eager to get back into the water for several reasons; for one, a new 24-70 mm zoom lens has been sitting, unused, in our equipment case since January. The flexibility it will afford us in our filming is immense compared to our static 50 mm prime lens that we’ve used all year. Reason number two? You may recall my post from last July which briefly recounted the expedition of The Schmidt Ocean Institute’s RV Falkor. While the main focus of the expedition was exploration and mapping of the Cayman Trench, a quick side trip  was organized to Roatán to map an area of 300 square kilometers, primarily in the depth range of 300-1,000 meters. Peter Etnoyer, a scientist with whom Karl has worked the past several years, wrote the proposal particularly in the interest of generating higher resolution maps to identify deep-sea coral reef habitats. His graduate student, Matt Rittinghouse, has spent the past year generating increasingly higher resolution maps in what I can only assume is a very painstaking process.

In the map below, you’re looking at a crude representation generated from the raw multi-beam sonar data. Ultimately, the end product will depict the topography of Roatán’s deep sea slopes with a resolution of approximately 5 meters. This will be the first map of its kind for Roatán – a huge step forward not only for understanding the location and structure of Roatán’s deep sea communities, but also potentially for deep sea reef conservation in the area.

Map generated from RV Falkor's raw multi-beam sonar data

Map generated from RV Falkor’s raw multi-beam sonar data

The deep sea habitats of Roatán are ripe for exploration and research. In fact, Robert Ballard, who is most famous for his discovery of the Titanic in 1985, and The Ocean Exploration Trust will visit Roatán in August to explore the depths using the ROV HerculesKarl, naturally, would like to get a head start on investigating some of the more intriguing features of his own backyard. Namely, a collapsed seamount (not visible on the map above) and areas of high relief towards the west end of the island.

For next week’s post I hope to have a higher res map showing some of the cool features and our anticipated dive plan. Until then, check out our latest batch of footage on Ocean Footage! It went live last month.



~ by twonakedapes on April 23, 2014.

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