Researchers begin mapping Oregon coast floor

FLORENCE — A survey of the ocean floor off the Oregon coast is getting under way to provide detailed undersea maps that will help protect marine habitat.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Oregon State University will study water depths, seek out navigational hazards and monitor the natural features of coastal seabeds and aquatic life.

The mapping is critical to scientists trying to better understand the coastal environment along with commercial fishermen and government agencies who need more information for important decisions about siting marine reserves and wave energy buoys.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the two-year project is part of a plan he approved with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington to map the Pacific Ocean off all three states by 2020.

“With the data collected from these surveys, we can model tsunamis, identify marine habitats, select alternative energy sites, identify geological hazards and enhance safe and efficient marine transportation,” Kulongoski said.

The maps will cover about a third of state waters and three-quarters of its rocky reefs, recording every shape in the ocean between 10 meters deep and three miles from shore, where Oregon-owned waters meet federal ocean territory. The federal government plans to use the data from the surveys to update nautical charts now based on depth information acquired before 1939.

“Updated nautical charts will also make ocean shipping and recreational boating along Oregon’s coasts much safer,” said John Dunnigan, assistant administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Chris Goldfinger, an OSU associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, said the survey will include sites important for tsunami modeling, wave energy and marine reserves proposed at Cape Falcon, south of Cannon Beach; Cascade Head, near Lincoln City; and Cape Perpetua, near Yachats.

Support for the project was led by coastal legislators, including state Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach.

“They say that the third time is the charm and this was our third attempt to pass legislation to enable Oregon State University ocean scientists to finish the task of mapping the sea floor,” Boone said.

The two-year project is funded by a $5 million grant from NOAA and $1.3 million in state money.

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