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Diving Deeper Shorts: Mapping Sea Floor Habitats

Episode 22 (September 13, 2012)

HOST: Are you longing for a little deep sea adventure? Today on Diving Deeper Shorts, we revisit our interview on mapping sea floor habitats - just a few minutes on how scientists collect the data needed for sea floor maps and what a day is like for scientists on a research mission. For this episode, let's go back to our interview from July 2010 with Tim Battista from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Let's listen in.

HOST: So, it's probably quite a challenge to collect data on the sea floor at all these different depths. How do you collect this data?

TIM BATTISTA: So, in making a sea floor map, we use a variety of technologies and those technologies have limitations. Some of them are actually fairly available to anyone. We're all familiar with Google Earth and Google Maps, which allow us to see imagery, mostly of the land environment, we can bring up a satellite image of your house or something like that or street map. We use the same imagery to do habitat mapping and these are actually commercial satellites that fly in space, overhead, and we're able to task those to take pictures of locations that we want to map.

Beyond that we have to switch to other technologies and there's a reason for that. Commercial satellites take pictures and light only penetrates so far to the sea floor and so we can only see things to the depth that the light penetrates. So once we get to that threshold where light doesn't see the sea bottom any more we have to switch to something else. And typically what we use is what's known as acoustic technologies. Acoustic being to use the sound to penetrate the water and get down to the bottom of the sea floor.

HOST: Tim, can you tell us a little bit about what a day is like or what a mission is like when you go out to collect this data?

TIM BATTISTA: So typically my role is principal scientist, my job is to not only bring the scientists on board to do various tasks with their expertise, but also to come up with a design for the research mission, so all the bits and pieces that we want to fulfill during our research mission.

In any given day as a principal scientist, I have to articulate to my scientists what exactly we're going to be doing during the course of a day, and that changes generally based on the time of day it is. So we know during daylight hours we can do scuba diving, we can work on small boats doing collection there, so that's typically what we do during the day.

I should also mention we also use a remotely operated vehicle, which is a robot, it has a tether that comes to the surface, to the boat, which allows us to control it and manipulate the robot and take pictures and samples. Those are all daytime activities.

And then at nighttime we switch over to what we call mapping I guess, taking our acoustics, the term is called 'mowing the lawn.' You literally draw, on the computer, lines that the ship is to follow, and those lines are parallel to each other and we mow the lawn at night collecting data and data. And we use that data the next day to figure out where we're going to go with the ROV or the small boats or the diver. It kind of makes sense - you collect data at night to help you determine what you're going to do the next day.

That's all for today's show. Want to learn more? Go to and select the July 2010 podcast archive to listen to the full interview on mapping sea floor habitats.

If you have questions on this episode or the National Ocean Service in general, you can contact us at And if you're on social media, don't forget you can find us, its usoceangov, on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. You can catch our next episode in two weeks.