Southern Salish Sea Habitat Map Series: Admiralty Inlet

Open-File Report 2015-1073
By: , and 
Edited by: Guy R. Cochrane



In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10 initiated the Puget Sound Scientific Studies and Technical Investigations Assistance Program, designed to support research in support of implementing the Puget Sound Action Agenda. The Action Agenda was created in response to Puget Sound having been designated as one of 28 estuaries of national significance under section 320 of the U.S. Clean Water Act, and its overall goal is to restore the Puget Sound Estuary's environment by 2020. The Southern Salish Sea Mapping Project was funded by the Assistance Program request for proposals process, which also supports a large number of coastal-zone- and ocean-management issues. The issues include the recommendations of the Marine Protected Areas Work Group to the Washington State Legislature (Van Cleve and others, 2009), which endorses a Puget Sound and coast-wide marine conservation needs assessment, gap analysis of existing Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and recommendations for action. This publication is the first of four U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigation Maps that make up the Southern Salish Sea Mapping Project. The remaining three map blocks to be published in the future, located south of Admiralty Inlet, are shown in figure 1.

Puget Sound is a deep, fjord-type estuary covering an area of 2,330 km2 in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States (fig. 1). It is connected to the ocean by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a turbulent passage approximately 160 km in length and 22 km wide at its west end, expanding to over 40 km wide at its east end (Thomson, 1994). During the Pleistocene, the area was occupied several times by lobes of continental ice, resulting in a complex basin-fill of glacial and interglacial deposits that are locally as thick as 1100 m (Johnson and others, 2001). The last glaciation, called the Fraser glaciation, began after 28,800±740 14C yr B.P. when ice started a slow expansion (Clague, 1981). At peak advance the westward Juan de Fuca lobe reached the edge of the continental shelf through the Juan de Fuca Strait shortly before 14,460±200 14C yr B.P. (Herzer and Bornhold, 1982). The southward Puget lobe advanced to its terminal position in Puget Sound by around 14,150 14C yr B.P. (Porter and Swanson, 1998). Ice retreated from its maximum to northern Whidbey Island by 13,650±350 14C yr B.P. (Dethier and others, 1995). Retreating glaciers resulted in a thick sequence of ice-contact, glacial-marine sediment, and early post-glacial sediments (Linden and Schurrer, 1988). These deposits have experienced the effects of a marine transgression followed by regression, resulting in a sea-level several tens of meters lower than the present day (Linden and Schurrer, 1988). A second transgression brought sea level to about the present level by around 5,470±120 14C yr B.P. (Clague and others, 1982) establishing the present oceanographic and geologic environment

Puget Sound is separated into four interconnected basins; Whidbey, Central (Main), Hood Canal, and South (Thomson, 1994). The Whidbey, Central, and Hood Canal basins are the three main branches of the Puget Sound estuary and are separated from the Strait of Juan de Fuca by a double sill at Admiralty Inlet. The Admiralty Inlet map area includes the Inlet and a portion of the Whidbey Basin (fig. 1). The shallower South Basin is separated by a sill at Tacoma Narrows and is highly branched with numerous finger inlets. Flow within Puget Sound is dominated by tidal currents of as much as 1 m/s at Admiralty Inlet, reducing to approximately 0.5 m/s in the Central Basin (Lavelle and others, 1988). The lack of silt and clay-sized sediments in the Admiralty Inlet map area is likely a result of the strong currents (see Ground-Truth Studies for the Admiralty Inlet Map Area, sheet 3). The subtidal component of flow reaches approximately 0.1 m/s and is driven by density gradients arising from the contrast in salty ocean water at the entrance and freshwater inputs from stream flow (Lavelle and others, 1988). The total freshwater input to Puget Sound is approximately 3.4 x 106 m3/day, primarily from the Skagit River (Cannon, 1983). The subtidal circulation mostly consists of a two-layered flow in the basins with fresher water exiting at the surface and saltier water entering at depth (Ebbesmeyer and Cannon, 2001). In general, surface waters flow north and deeper waters flow south; variations arise from wind effects that can drive a surface current in the same direction as the wind, and a baroclinic response in the lower layer to about 100-m depth (Matsuura and Cannon, 1997). Oceanographic properties are influenced by temporal forcing parameters such as reduced stream flow during the 2000-01 drought that increased surface salinity and decreased differences between surface and bottom waters (Newton and others, 2003).

On offshore seismic-reflection profiles, Pleistocene strata (excluding latest Pleistocene glacial and post-glacial deposits) form a distinct seismic unit, bounded below by pre-Tertiary or Tertiary basement and above by typically flat-lying latest Pleistocene to Holocene deposits that fill in erosional or depositional relief (Johnson and others, 2001). Cores from central Puget Sound have accumulation rates that range from 85 to 1200 mg/cm2/yr, or 0.12 to 2.4 cm/yr; the highest accumulation rates are near the southern end of central Puget Sound (Carpenter and others, 1985). Carpenter and others (1985) un-weighted arithmetic mean of accumulation rates for central Puget Sound deeper stations is 480±340 (± one standard deviation) mg/cm2/yr. Lavelle and others (1985) also found rates as high as 1200 mg/cm2/yr over the past approximately 70 years in cores in the Central Basin off of and north and south of Elliott Bay. Puget Sound basin rates are comparable to rates in midshelf silt deposits on the Washington coast north of the Columbia River (Nittrouer and others, 1979).

The deep subtidal (in other words, below SCUBA depths) habitats of Puget Sound are relatively poorly known. A few subtidal surveys exist for several habitat types from the 1960s and 1970s (reviewed in Dethier, 1990), using grab and box core data. The Dethier (1990) review divides habitat up into Coast and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) substrate, water column energy, and depth zones but does not attempt to map these habitats, rather it is an inventory of habitats found in the area and the flora and fauna associated with each habitat.

The approach of the Southern Salish Sea Mapping project is to create highly detailed seafloor maps through collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar data (the undersea equivalent of satellite remote-sensing data in terrestrial mapping), acoustic backscatter, seafloor video, seafloor photography, and bottom-sediment sampling data. This approach is based in part on methods presented and data collection and product needs identified at the Washington State Seafloor Mapping Workshop (Washington State Seafloor Mapping Workshop Steering Committee, 2008), attended by coastal and marine managers and scientists. The map products display seafloor geomorphology and substrate, and identify potential marine benthic habitats. It is emphasized that the more interpretive habitat and geology maps rely on the integration of multiple, new high-resolution datasets and that mapping at small scales would not be possible without such data. Oceanographic current and wave data is not included in this analysis, however, the accompanying geographic information system (GIS) data set is designed and intended to be combined with oceanographic and biologic data sets assembled by others in the future and some of the GIS data has already been incorporated in the unpublished Nature Conservancy Benthic Habitats of Puget Sound database.

This publication includes four map sheets, explanatory text, and a descriptive pamphlet. Each map sheet is published as a portable document format (PDF) file. ESRI ArcGIS compatible geotiffs (for example, bathymetry) and shapefiles (for example video observation points) will be available for download in the data catalog associated with this publication (Cochrane, 2015). An ArcGIS Project File with the symbology used to generate the map sheets is also provided. For those who do not own the full suite of ESRI GIS and mapping software, the data can be read using ESRI ArcReader, a free viewer that is available at

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Southern Salish Sea Habitat Map Series: Admiralty Inlet
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1073
Subseries Southern Salish Sea Habitat Map Series
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151073
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description Report: iv, 34 p.; 4 Plates: 40 x 36 inches
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Admiralty Inlet
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
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