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News and Events Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center news, seafloor mapping, gas hydrates, seismic imaging

seafloor off the U.S. east coast showing areas of past landslides

Science Superlative! Most Citied Award for Marine Geology

A USGS-led special issue of Marine Geology received a most-cited certificate from the journal in May 2018. “Tsunami hazard along the U.S. Atlantic coast” (volume 264, no. 1–2) was published in 2009 and was among Marine Geology’s three most-cited special issues in 2016 and 2017. The U.S. East Coast is highly vulnerable to tsunami damage because major population centers and industrial facilities sit near the shoreline at low elevations. Scientists, engineers, and modelers joined forces to evaluate the causes of tsunamis that could affect this region. Although earthquakes trigger most Pacific and Indian Ocean tsunamis, the primary source of potential tsunamis on the U.S. Atlantic coast is submarine landslides—the main focus of the special issue. The volume was written largely by USGS scientists and edited by USGS research geophysicist Uri ten Brink.

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usgs personnel cave diving in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

USGS Diving Deep in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico!

In partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Moody Gardens (MG), the USGS is leading an investigation of ecosystem dynamics and water quality within subterranean estuaries beneath the jungles of Yucatan Peninsula. The team is trying to understand the biological and hydrological mechanisms that sustain life within thousands of miles of caves within the coastal groundwater of the peninsula. Rapid urbanization and development threaten the well being of life in this extreme environment and condition of the region's primary water supply.Pictured here, John Pohlman (USGS), David Brankovits (USGS/WHOI) and Jake Emmert (MG) deploy a rack of acoustic devices in an open water sinkhole (or cenote) prior to a 6-month long installation

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Methane hydrates under a rock covered in mussels

USGS Gas Hydrates Project Releases New Fact Sheets

The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) focuses on the study of methane hydrates in natural environments. The project is a collaboration between the USGS Energy Resources and the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Programs and works closely with other U.S. Federal agencies, some State governments, outside research organizations, and international partners. The USGS studies the formation and distribution of gas hydrates in nature, the potential of hydrates as an energy resource, and the interaction between methane hydrates and the environment.

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Neil Ganju and Patrick Dickhudt preparing an oceanographic platform to measure wetland sediment transport in Forsythe NWR, New Jersey. photo credit: Tom Malatesta, Rutgers

Spotlight on Science! A Focus on Estuaries and Coastal Wetlands

Did you know that estuaries and wetlands provide a critical defense against storms and sea-level rise while providing economically valuable services? Did you know that seagrass stabilizes the estuarine seabed, and reduces how much sediment is in the water column?

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Salt Marsh Tidal Flow Schematic

Restoring tides to reduce methane emissions.

Coastal wetlands are sites of rapid carbon (C) sequestration and contain large soil C stocks. Thus, there is increasing interest in those ecosystems as sites for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission offset projects (sometimes referred to as “Blue Carbon”), through preservation of existing C stocks or creation of new wetlands to increase future sequestration. Here we show that in the globally-widespread occurrence of diked, impounded, drained and tidally-restricted salt marshes, substantial methane (CH4) and CO2 emission reductions can be achieved through restoration of disconnected saline tidal flows.

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image of usgs personnel collecting data north of Nantucket

Lights, Camera, Action! Watch USGS seafloor mapping group collect data north of Nantucket

SEABed Observation and Sampling System (SeaBOSS) operations were conducted north of Nantucket, MA as part of an agreement with Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management to map the geology of Massachusetts waters . The overall goal of the USGS–CZM mapping cooperative is to characterize the sea floor and shallow substrate inside the 3-mile limit of State waters, using high-resolution geophysical techniques, sediment sampling, and sea-floor photography and videography.

Watch the video.

image of usgs personnel flying drones

USGS Scientists to Track Effects of Historic Lake Ontario Flooding

Beginning July 10, U.S. Geological Survey scientists plan to conduct fieldwork along a flood-impacted stretch of New York’s Lake Ontario shoreline, using unmanned aerial systems (also known as drones), pressure sensors that measure water elevation and special water-elevation gages designed for rapid set-up. The fieldwork, supported by the state of New York and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is designed to gather up-to-date information to help emergency managers track and respond to historic levels of flooding, and to collect new scientific data about coastal processes affecting the lake’s shoreline.

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image of usgs gas hydrates lab

Rapid salt-marsh erosion in Grand Bay, Mississippi

This time-lapse video shows lateral erosion of a salt marsh in the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, part of an embayment near the city of Pascagoula, Mississippi, on the US Gulf coast. Wave action over the course of 6.5 months led to about 1.5 meters of erosion. Researchers from the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center are studying the influence of wave attack and sediment supply on wetland vulnerability and ecosystem services. Learn more about estuaries research at the USGS by visiting the Estuarine Processes, Hazards, and Ecosystems project web page at

image of usgs gas hydrates lab

Proven under Pressure: USGS Advances Capabilities for High-Pressure Seafloor Samples Containing Gas Hydrate

The USGS HyPrCAL facility will not only analyze NGHP-02 pressure cores, but may also receive pressure cores from an upcoming U.S.-led drilling expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico, as well as from possible future programs on the Alaskan North Slope and in international locations. 

The standalone HyPrCAL facility is refrigerated to maintain gas hydrate within its stability zone, while the pressure core chambers and the special analytical tools sustain the required pressures during analyses.  HyPrCAL hosts the Pressure Core Characterization Tools(PCCTs) originated by J. Carlos Santamarina at Georgia Tech and transferred to the USGS in 2015.  The USGS Gas Hydrates Project is modifying the PCCTs and building new devices to enhance analytical capabilities for hydrate-bearing pressure cores. 

photgraph of the research vessel helmer hansset of UIT

Ocean Absorption of Carbon Dioxide More than Makes Up for Methane Emissions from Seafloor Methane Seeps

U.S., Norwegian, and German scientists report back on the surprising results of an Arctic Ocean research expedition.

 The ocean waters near the surface of the Arctic Ocean absorbed 2,000 times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the amount of methane that escaped into the atmosphere from the same waters, according to a study by the USGS Gas Hydrates Project and collaborators in Germany and Norway. The study was conducted near Norway’s Svalbard Islands, above several seafloor methane seeps.

“If what we observed near Svalbard occurs more broadly at similar locations around the world, it could mean that methane seeps have a net cooling effect on climate, not a warming effect as we previously thought,” said USGS biogeochemist John Pohlman, who is the paper’s lead author. “We are looking forward to testing the hypothesis that shallow-water methane seeps are net greenhouse gas sinks in other locations.” 

The study is available here.


photograph of Rob Thieler, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Chief

Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Director, Rob Thieler

Dr. Rob Thieler is the Center Director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Rob conducts marine geologic research on the geologic framework and evolution of the coastal zone. This includes understanding relationships between geology, sediment transport, climate and sea-level change, and coastal erosion. Rob has conducted assessments of sea-level rise vulnerability for the U.S. and locations worldwide. He served as a Lead Author of a U.S. Global Change Research Program report on potential impacts of sea-level rise, and works with many federal and state agencies to develop science and policy plans for addressing coastal change hazards.


image of USGS scientist measuring water and sediment movement at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey

New Technique Quickly Predicts Salt Marsh Vulnerability

Scientists working on a rapid assessment technique for determining which US coastal salt marshes are most imperiled by erosion were surprised to find that all eight of the Atlantic and Pacific Coast marshes where they field-tested their method are losing ground, and half of them will be gone in 350 years’ time if they don’t recapture some lost terrain. Read more

image of seagrass meadow in Chincoteague Bay

How does seagrass impact wave energy?

Submerged aquatic vegetation is generally thought to attenuate waves, but this interaction remains poorly characterized in shallow-water field settings with locally generated wind waves. Better quantification of wave–vegetation interaction can provide insight to morphodynamic changes in a variety of environments and also is relevant to the planning of nature-based coastal protection measures. Toward that end, an instrumented transect was deployed across a Zostera marina (common eelgrass) meadow in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland/Virginia, U.S.A., to characterize wind-wave transformation within the vegetated region. Read more

image of Toolik Station Alaska, Photo by Jim Tang

Study finds limited sign or soil adaptation to climate warning

One of the greatest challenges in projecting future shifts in the global climate is understanding how soil respiration rates will change with warming. Multiple experimental warming studies have explored this response, but no consensus has been reached. Based on a global synthesis of 27 experimental warming studies spanning nine biomes, we find that although warming increases soil respiration rates, there is limited evidence for a shifting respiration response with experimental warming. We also note a universal decline in the temperature sensitivity of respiration at soil temperatures >25 °C. Together, our data indicate that future respiration rates are likely to follow the current temperature response function, but higher latitudes will be more responsive to warmer temperatures. Read more

image of Walter Barnhardt, Ben Gutierrez, and Huntington Willard

Woods Hole Diversity Initiative Presents the 2016 John K. Bullard Diversity Award to Geologist Ben Gutierrez

The diversity award is named in honor for John Bullard, former president of the Sea Education Association, who also received the first award in 2012 for his leadership, vision, and commitment to diversity in the Woods Hole science community and for his role in forming the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative and serving on the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC). The 2014 award was presented to long-time employee Lionel Hall of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), who was present at the ceremony.


inage of Shoemaker Award recipients

Coastal and Marine Geology Website wins Shoemaker Award

The USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program (CMGP) website developed by Jolene Gittens (USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center), Greg Miller (USGS Woods Hole Science Center), Andrea Toran (USGS Woods Hole Science Center), Laura Torresan (USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center), and Ann Tihansky (USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program) won the Shoemaker Award for Communication Excellence in the internet product category.

Explore the Award Winning Coastal and Marine Geology Program Website

image of Elizabeth Pendleton teaching the teachers

Teaching the Teachers about Geologic Mapping of the Massachusetts Sea Floor

On July 12, 2016, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center staff hosted approximately 25 teachers and program staff from the National Marine Life Center and the Museum Institute for Teaching Science.  Kathy Zagzebski from the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, MA, in collaboration with the Museum Institute for Teaching Science in Quincy, MA, organized a Professional Development Institute for K-12 educators focusing on exploring earth science and curriculum frameworks in the coastal and marine environment.  Elizabeth Pendleton, USGS geologist, offered an interactive presentation on geologic mapping of the Massachusetts sea-floor, sharing data and information on the geologic framework, glacial history, and glacial geomorphology of Massachusetts.

Explore the Geologic Mapping of the Massachusetts Sea Floor Project Page

images of Erika Lentz and Rob Thieler

Sea level to rise about three feet by 2100

Research geologists, Erika Lentz and Rob Thieler, discuss sea-level rise as one of the most certain outcomes of climate change: as the climate warms, land-based ice melts into the ocean, and a warmer ocean expands in volume.

Read more in the October 25, 2015 issue of the Cape Cod Times

Daniel Nowacki deploying instruments in extremely soupy mud south of the Amazon River mouth.

Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellow Joins Hurricane Sandy Estuarine Physical Response Project

In March 2015, Dan Nowacki joined the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Dan is a Mendenhall Research Fellow working primarily with USGS research oceanographer Neil Ganju as part of the Estuarine Physical Response to Storms project. He is developing techniques to quantify the role of vegetation in the response and resilience of coastal areas to large storm events. Using a combination of numerical modeling techniques and field measurements, he will work to better understand how a variety of vegetation types modify waves and associated sediment-transport processes. Although coastal vegetation is generally thought to mitigate wave action and storm surge, the specific dynamics of the interaction remain poorly known; this work could ultimately help coastal planners understand the role of natural ecosystems in storm protection.

Read more in the March-June 2015 issue of Sound Waves

Rarely observerd deep-sea fish, a jellynose.

Telepresence Expedition Explores Unknown Deep-Sea Areas off of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

In April 2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists participated in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration research cruise investigating unknown and poorly understood deep-sea areas off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. An interdisciplinary team of scientists working at sea and on shore examined the geology and biodiversity along various seafloor features at depths ranging from 300 to 4,500 meters. Twelve dives were completed with a dual-bodied remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system consisting of the ROV Deep Discoverer (D2) and the Seirios camera platform, both of which were launched and controlled from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

Read more in the March-June 2015 issue of Sound Waves

Fran Lightsom receives the USGS Community for Data Integration Leadership and Innovation Award

Oceanographer, Fran Lightsom, Receives Leadership and Innovation Award from the USGS Community for Data Integration

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Community for Data Integration (CDI) presents its Leadership and Innovation Award to a community member for outstanding contributions in guiding USGS data integration activities through the CDI working groups. The award is meant to recognize someone who brings new ideas to life and provides unwavering leadership in producing tangible results that will improve data integration, access, and discovery. The awardee actively seeks collaborative approaches, embraces new perspectives, and provides a stimulating forum to address on-the-ground data integration needs of the community. Through this leadership, the awardee’s contributions move the CDI, and on a broader scale, the USGS and its partners, forward to a more integrated data landscape that ultimately advances USGS science.

Read more in the March-June 2015 issue of Sound Waves

Researcher moves a mo nitor that contains electronics used to postion the seismic streamer at the correct depth and angle.

Imaging Methane Seeps and Plumes on the U.S. Atlantic Margin

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gas Hydrates Project surveyed methane seeps and plumes on the northern part of the U.S. Atlantic margin aboard the research vessel (R/V) Endeavor in April 2015. The researchers collected high-resolution seismic data (cross-sectional views of sediment layers and other features beneath the seafloor) along ship tracks totaling nearly 580 kilometers (360 miles), in addition to continuous imagery of methane plumes in the water column above seafloor cold seeps. They also measured the flux of methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the ocean to the atmosphere.

Read more in the March-June 2015 issue of Sound Waves

screen shot of the home page of the video portal

Dive In – Explore Thousands of Coastal and Seafloor Images

Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor and coastline—most areas never seen before—are now available and easily accessible online. This is critical for coastal managers to make important decisions, ranging from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.

This USGS portal is unique, due to the sheer quantity and quality of data presented. It is the largest database of its kind, providing detailed and fine-scale representations of the coast. The "geospatial context" is also unique, with maps displaying imagery in the exact location where it was recorded.

Imagery is available through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.

image of dr. laura brothers, usgs This Woman ROCKS! Many people spend years trying to find their “dream job,” but USGS Marine Geologist, Dr. Laura Brothers, is one of the lucky few who has already found hers.

What’s the most important advice Brothers has for young women thinking about pursuing a careerin science, technology, engineering, and/or math fields, known as STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. “Find a mentor,” Brothers says. “It goes for anybody going into any field. Finding somebody that can lead you along and show you the ropes makes a big difference. It can be tough to envision yourself in a field, if you don’t look like most of the practicing professionals, particularly when you’re starting out.”

Read more about Dr. Laura Brothers on page 26 of Summer 2014 Newswave.

image of methane seeps from the upperslope of virginia Widespread methane seepage from the seafloor on the northern US Atlantic margin. Natural methane leakage from the seafloor is far more widespread on the U.S. Atlantic margin than previously thought, according to a study by researchers from Mississippi State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other institutions.

The study, Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern US Atlantic Margin, by A, Skarke, C. Ruppel, M, Kodis, D. Brothers and E. Lobecker in Nature Geoscience is available on line.

image of dr. rich signell, usgs  research oceanographer USGS Scientist Receives 2014 DeSouza Award. Dr. Richard Signell of the USGS has been awarded the 2014 Russell L. DeSouza Award by the Unidata Users Committee. The DeSouza Award honors “individuals whose energy, expertise, and active involvement enable the Unidata Program to better serve the geosciences.”

Read more about Dr. Rich Signell on page 20 of Summer 2014 Newswave.

image of coawst workshop participants New Approaches for Storm Forecasting Combining models for a more robust way of understanding storms and their impacts. The USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program recently sponsored training for nearly 90 scientists from over 15 countries to learn about a new modeling system designed to improve our ability to predict storms and their impacts. The system, called Coupled- Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave- Sediment Transport (COAWST) Modeling System, couples together several open-source modeling components that have been tailored to investigate processes of the atmosphere, ocean, waves, and coastal environment.

Read more about COAWST Modeling System on page 23 of Summer 2014 Newswave.

image of location map and bottom photographs of the massachusetts seafloor from nahant to cape cod #StrongAfterSandy—The Science Supporting the Department of the Interior’s Response. Dr. Neil K. Ganju, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center research oceanographer, speaks at Congressional Briefing.

Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 devastated some of the most densely populated areas of the Atlantic Coast. The storm claimed lives, altered natural lands and wildlife habitat, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Hurricane Sandy is a stark reminder of our Nation's need to better protect people and communities from future storms. To inform the Department of the Interior's recovery efforts, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are collectively developing and applying science to build resilient coastal communities that can better withstand and prepare for catastrophic storms of the future.

Read more about the Congressional Briefing Series

image of location map and bottom photographs of the massachusetts seafloor from nahant to cape cod New Maps of the Massachusetts Seafloor. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) have worked collaboratively to map the geology of the shallow seafloor offshore of Massachusetts coast. Interpretation of high-resolution geophysical data (interferometric and multibeam swath bathymetry, lidar, backscatter, and seismic reflection), sediment samples, and bottom photographs were used to produce a series of maps that describe the distribution and texture of seafloor sediments, shallow geologic framework, and physiographic zones of this inner-shelf region.

The link to the first CZM interpretive report, Shallow Geology, Seafloor Texture, and Physiographic Zones of the Inner Continental Shelf from Nahant to Northern Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, is available at

seismic survey sites conducted on the research vessel pelican in april and may 2013 Seismic-Imaging Research Cruise Investigates Deepwater Gas Hydrate Deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. Interest is mounting in the possibility that gas hydrate—a naturally occurring ice-like substance that contains vast quantities of methane—might be a viable source of natural gas. A research cruise by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gas Hydrates Project in the northern Gulf of Mexico in spring 2013 shed new light on that possibility. Read more in Sound Waves
CEVI for the coast of the northern gulf of mexico Understanding and Predicting Change in the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Special Issue, 63, of the Journal of Coastal Research, Understanding and Predicting Change in the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Read more in the Journal of Coastal Reseach Special Edition
image of u.s. continental shelf project team State Department Recognizes U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project Team's Accomplishments with Superior Honors. On April 4, 2013, the Department of State (DOS) presented Superior Honor Awards to the Senior agency representatives and the Integrated Regional Team leads working on the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project. The Interior Department, through USGS, contributes to the accomplishments of this team. Read more in NewsWave
Research Vessel David Folger Middlebury College Research Vessel Named for Retired USGS Scientist. In the marine research community, one of the greatest honors is to have a research vessel named for you. Such is the distinction bestowed on retired U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Dave Folger. The research vessel (R/V) David Folger, a 48-foot hydrofoil catamaran, is the newly dedicated research vessel for Middlebury College in Vermont. It will explore the waters of Lake Champlain while offering a state-of-the-art oceanographic platform for undergraduate students to learn the basics of marine research. Read more in Sound Waves
landsat image of the largest ice cap in europe A Cold Look at Planet Earth. The recently published State of the Earth's Cryosphere at the Beginning of the 21st Century summarizes past and present-day changes in the Earth's cryosphere (the whole of its frozen water) and describes the ongoing and potential effects of those changes. Extensively illustrated in print and connected to a companion online image gallery, this volume supplies a synthesis for 10 other geographically-based volumes in the 11-volume Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World. Read more at
photograph of international team studying gas hydrates Groundbreaking Gas Hydrate Research. A new project in Japan is helping scientists make significant progress in studying gas hydrates as a potential source for natural gas production. This research advances understanding of the global distribution of gas hydrates as well as whether and how methane contained in gas hydrates can be used as a viable energy source. Read more at
image of an icebreaker Arctic Expedition Reaches 88.5 Degrees North Latitude. The United States and Canada joined forces once again to survey the seafloor in remote and ice-covered regions of the Arctic Ocean. The two-icebreaker expedition was the last of four joint cruises designed to collect data that each country will use to define its "extended continental shelf"—the area beyond 200 nautical miles (nm) from shore where a nation has sovereign rights over resources on and beneath the seafloor according to the Law of the Sea Convention. (Visit to learn more.) Read more in Sound Waves
mapsheet of submarine canyons incising the seaward margin of georges bank U.S. and Canadian Geologists Collaborate in Mapping the Georges Bank Seabed. A series of maps showing the seabed topography of the Canadian portion of relatively shallow Georges Bank and the deeper Fundian and Northeast Channels has been compiled by geologists Brian Todd and John Shaw of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) and Page Valentine of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Read more in Sound Waves
image of native youth in science participants, tribal members and usgs staff Native Youth in Science—Preserving Our Homelands. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHCMSC) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to develop and deliver a summer science pilot program for Mashpee Wampanoag tribal youth in grades 6, 7, and 8. Read more in Sound Waves
image of rob thieler What's next after Superstorm Sandy? (CNN) -- Superstorm Sandy has taken a tragic toll on the residents of the mid-Atlantic's barrier islands. All along the coast, hundreds of homes were lost, and thousands of people still have no power after Sandy wreaked havoc. The impact is not unlike many other destructive recent storms in the United States, such as Ivan, Katrina and Ike. So what can be done? Read more at
image of usgs staff Warming climate presents grave risk of greenhouse gas release in Arctic. Deep beneath the frozen Arctic are deposits of methane. Lots of methane. And there's even more on the sea floor. As the environment warms, these deposits are being released into the atmosphere, presenting grave risks of runaway warming. Read more at
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