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Lucia Chica Project

Images of the deep ocean floor obtained from ship-towed instruments are inherently limited in resolution. In contrast, self-propelled devices ‘flying’ at low altitudes above the seafloor reveal unprecedented details of submarine topography. Channels and other features were previously recognized on the seafloor, offshore central California, in an area informally known as the Lucia Chica, a tributary to Lucia Canyon. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s (MBARI) Mapping Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) imaged a diffuse, low relief portion of the Lucia Chica at approximately 1000 meters depth.

AUV technology developed at MBARI provides remarkably high-resolution images of the Lucia Chica because the AUV collects data from 50 meters above the seafloor without physical connection to the surface ship. This study uses the multibeam bathymetry and subbottom profiles collected with the AUV. The bathymetry image has 1 meter lateral resolution and 30 centimeters vertical resolution, and the subbottom profiles have 10 centimeters resolution for up to 25 meters below the seafloor. The high resolution images capture multiple, disconnected, low relief channels and other seafloor features, including scours, pockmarks, buried channels, megaflutes, channel floor textures, and other unidentified depressions, which were not known to exist in the Lucia Chica.

This is a collaborative effort between four institutions, involving PhD student Katherine L. Maier and Professor Stephan A. Graham of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences; researchers and engineers from MBARI (Charles K. Paull and David W. Caress), scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park (Mary M. McGann); and researchers from Chevron Energy Technology Company (Andrea Fildani, SES ’04 and Tim McHargue).