College Researchers Complete a Portion of Ocean Floor Mapping

College of Charleston researchers have recently completed mapping and analyzing ancient paleolandscapes now buried by the ocean off the coast of Charleston.

College of Charleston geology professors Scott Harris, Leslie Sautter and a team of researchers including College of Charleston Master of Environmental Studies (MES) candidates, undergraduate students, and NOAA researchers have been slowly mapping the ocean floor in this area using multibeam echosounder surveys since 2007.
The seafloor mapping details geologic deposition and landscape formation since the last ice age on the continental shelf of South Carolina, with portions of North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Researchers say this indicates that there are several ancient shorelines where a river once met the ocean about 60 miles off our coast.

“There are landscapes now buried by the waves that were dry land for thousands of years where ancient Americans would have been able to see a hundred miles to the North and South,“ says Harris.  “This is an area where icebergs floated southward along the coast with seals and walrus abundant along the rocky shoreline 400 feet below the modern level of the sea.”

In addition to being important sites for Paleo-Americans, these bottom features are currently important fish habitats.

“The shelf-edge reef is a particularly productive habitat for fish, and many species of snapper and grouper spawn there.  This mapping increased our knowledge of fish habitat distribution, and helps us manage fish populations for sustainable use,” adds George R. Sedberry, superintendent of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Savannah, Ga.

This mapping is also critical as a model for future research for suitable renewable energy sites including wind farms.

Since less than 1% of the entire ocean floor has been mapped, scientists say this exploration needs to continue.

“There is much to be gained from continued mapping of the seabed,” says Sautter. “These studies not only generate important information, they also contribute toward training a new generation of scientists and marine surveyors.”

Funding for the project came from NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

For more information, contact Scott Harris at