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Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping, Research, and Exploration Offshore of California, Oregon, and Washington
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Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping, Research, and Exploration Offshore of California, Oregon, and Washington
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    Spatial information about the seafloor is critical for decision-making by marine science, management and tribal organizations. While this type of information is important, its collection is expensive, time consuming and logistically intensive. Developing a network of partners and coordinating data needs can help overcome these challenges by leveraging collective resources to meet shared goals. To help promote coordination across organizations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) developed a spatial framework, process and online application to identify common data collection priorities across space. This application was used by organizations participating in NOAA’s West Coast Deep Sea Coral Initiative (WCDSCI) and Expanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems (EXPRESS) Campaign to identify overlapping, high priority areas for seafloor mapping, sampling and visual surveys offshore of California, Oregon and Washington. To identify priority areas, the West Continental United States Coast (WCC) was divided into five subregions and 3,265 square grid cells approximately 10x10 minutes (~14x18 km) in size. In addition to this spatial grid, existing relevant spatial datasets (e.g., bathymetry, protected area boundaries, etc.) were compiled to help participants understand the location of existing seafloor information and data gaps and to identify areas they wanted to prioritize for future data collections. An online application was developed using Esri’s Web AppBuilder to house this spatial grid and relevant spatial datasets. Twenty-six participants from federal, state, tribal and academic organizations entered their priorities in this online application, using virtual coins to denote their priorities. Grid cells with more coins were higher priorities than cells with fewer coins. Participants also reported why these locations were important and what data types were needed. Results were analyzed and mapped using statistical techniques to identify significant relationships between priorities, reasons for those priorities and data needs. Ten high priority locations were broadly identified for future mapping, sampling and visual surveys based on the results of the prioritization. These locations were distributed throughout the WCC, primarily in depths less than 1,000 m, including areas offshore of California’s Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Marin, Sonoma, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, Oregon’s Curry and Lincoln Counties and Washington’s Grays Harbor County. Participants consistently selected (1) Exploration, (2) Biota/Important Natural Area and (3) Research as their top reasons (i.e., justifications) for prioritizing locations. Participants also consistently selected (1) Benthic Habitat Map and (2) Bathymetry and Backscatter as their top data or product needs in high priority grid cells. Cluster analysis revealed that responses could be grouped into four important general types. One cluster was comprised of nearshore areas, which are important for nautical charting and coastal hazards assessments. Another included areas at the boundaries of tectonic plates in the region. A third cluster highlighted areas less than 1,000 m deep that are of high value for fisheries, marine conservation and research. The last cluster was comprised of locations with active or proposed energy leases on the WCC. In addition to these patterns, a theoretical case study is presented to illustrate how this spatial information can be used to inform future data collections on the WCC. When applied, this information can answer five basic questions that are important for planning field work, including where, when, what, who and why. The map layers developed here have also been published in NOAA’s U.S. Mapping Coordination website. This website allows participants (and other users) to upload their latest data collections and collectively track their overall progress towards mapping key priority areas identified in this effort. Combined, these tools and this information will enable NOAA WCDSCI, EXPRESS and other WCC organizations to more efficiently leverage resources and coordinate their mapping of high priority locations along the WCC.
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