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CALIFORNIA SEA FLOOR SURVEY SHEDS NEW LIGHT ON BIG WAVES
New Sonar Data Helps Explain Why 'Mavericks' Waves are Among Nation's Largest

NOAA image of nearshore reef in the vicinity of the San Gregorio fault. The 3-D image is color-coded by depth: the blue and green areas are deeper than the areas in yellow and red. As a wave front approaches the shoreline and progressively enters shallow water, it becomes compressed and grows taller.April 17, 2007 The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program and the California Ocean Protection Council released new data and three-dimensional imagery of the sea floor off California that helps explain why the famed "Mavericks" waves are among the largest in the continental United States. (Click NOAA image for larger view of nearshore reef in the vicinity of the San Gregorio fault. The 3-D image is color-coded by depth: the blue and green areas are deeper than the areas in yellow and red. As a wave front approaches the shoreline and progressively enters shallow water, it becomes compressed and grows taller. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The data, collected as part of the California Coast State Waters Mapping Project, illustrates in unprecedented detail the rugged sea floor surrounding the world-famous surfing spot near Half Moon Bay, and sheds new light on ocean ecosystems and phenomena such as large waves and underwater earthquakes. The mapped area includes portions of the NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

"This type of cutting-edge research is essential to understanding the unique aspects of our national marine sanctuaries, enabling better ecosystem-based management," said NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary superintendent Maria Brown. "The sanctuary program will use these images to educate future ocean scientists and foster citizen stewardship."

Researchers used advanced sonar equipment and aerial light detection instruments to produce detailed underwater pictures that highlight the faults, chasms, fissures, crevices, and pinnacles on the sea floor and help scientists distinguish critical underwater habitats. Scientists and resource managers will use the information to identify potential biological "hot spots" to aid their understanding of the highly productive, diverse undersea ecosystem along the California coast.

"This research is extremely valuable in identifying areas important to the California Marine Life Protection Act process and could simultaneously help to predict seismic hazards along California's coast," said Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, chair of the Ocean Protection Council.

Also significant is the survey's charting of navigational hazards such as hidden reefs and sunken obstacles. Knowing where hazards are located is essential for the safety of vessels that use these waters each year. This is the first time scientists have been able to show the shallow nearshore reef in such detail.

Geologic hazards along the seismically active California coast also were identified through the survey. Researchers documented the position and physical features associated with the marine segments of the San Gregorio fault, a major active fault within the San Andreas Fault System.

The California State Waters Mapping Project is a collaboration of the California Ocean Protection Council, the California Coastal Conservancy's California Coastal and Marine Mapping Initiative, the California Department of Fish and Game, the United States Geological Survey, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation, and the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program. Rikk Kvitek, director of the Seafloor Mapping Lab at California State University Monterey Bay, and Guy Cochrane, of the United States Geological Survey, led the project.

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America's marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Media Contact:
Mary Jane Schramm, NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, (415) 561-6622 ext. 205