The mid to outer continental shelf off Mississippi-Alabama and off northwest Florida were the focus of US Geological Survey (USGS) multibeam echosounder (MBES) mapping cruises in 2000 and 2001, respectively. These areas were mapped to investigate the extent of "deep-water reefs" first suggested by Ludwick and Walton (1957). The reefs off Mississippi and Alabama were initially described in water depths of 60 to 120 m (Ludwick and Walton, 1957) but the 2000 mapping found reef and hardgrounds to be much more extensive than previously thought (Gardner et al., 2001). The persistent trend of reef-like features along the outer shelf of Mississippi-Alabama suggested the trend might continue along the northwest Florida mid and outer shelf so a MBES-mapping effort was mounted in 2001 to test this suggestion. It is critical to determine the accurate location, geomorphology, and types of the ridges and reefs that occur in this region to understand the Quaternary history of the area and to assess their importance as benthic habitats for fisheries. The 2001 survey found a series of shelf-depth platforms with ridges (possibly reefs) constructed on their surfaces (Gardner et al., 2002).
The area known as the "head of De Soto Canyon" is the large unmapped region between the 2000 and 2001 mapped areas. The head of De Soto Canyon is an outer shelf zone with a relatively steep western wall and a much gentler eastern wall. It was unknown prior to this cruise whether the reefs of the Mississippi-Alabama shelf continue eastward into the head of De Soto Canyon and connect with the ridges and reefs mapped on the northwest Florida outer shelf. The existence of carbonate-cemented latest Quaternary to Holocene sandstones along the western wall of the head of De Soto Canyon (Shipp and Hopkins, 1978; Benson et al., 1997; W.W. Schroeder, personnel comm., 2002) is of interest because of the potential benthic habitats they may represent.
Precisely georeferenced high-resolution mapping of bathymetry is a fundamental first step in the study of an area suspected to be critical benthic habitats. Morphology is thought to be critical to define the distribution of dominant demersal plankton/planktivores communities. Community structure and trophodynamics of demersal fishes of the outer continental shelf of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico presently are focuses of a major USGS research project. A goal of the project is to answer questions concerning the relative roles played by morphology and surficial geology in controlling biological differentiation. Deep-water ridges, reefs, and outcrops are important because they are fish havens and key spawning sites, and are critical habitats for larval, juvenile, and economically important sport/food fishes.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Bathymetry and acoustic backscatter of the mid and outer continental shelf, head of De Soto Canyon, northeastern Gulf of Mexico