Mapping the seafloor to image its structure and character is a fundamental type of observation used in oceanographic research. Repeated, geographically-accurate representations of the seafloor are essential for understanding the complexity of landscapes, the processes that create and disrupt them, and their functions as habitat.

The MBARI Seafloor Mapping team seeks to achieve efficient surveys that are spatially accurate and repeatable in complex terrain and in the deep ocean. This work has been an important part of MBARI development and research for over two decades. Since 2004 we have used Dorado AUVs optimized for mapping to collect 1-meter (3.3 feet) scale topography, backscatter, and subbottom profiler data. Starting in 2011 we have used MBARI’s ROVs as platforms for low altitude surveys with sonar, lidar, and stereo cameras, that yield 1-centimeter (0.4 inch) resolution topography combined with 2-millimeter (0.08 inch) scale color photography. Whether at meter scale or centimeter scale, with repeated surveys our mapping tools have the capability to quantitatively measure change on the seafloor. Our AUV mapping data are catalogued in the MBARI Seafloor Mapping Database and being archived at the Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS).

Sur Ridge Animation


Seafloor Mapping Lab

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Barry, J.P., S.Y. Litvin, A. DeVogelaere, D.W. Caress, C.F. Lovera, A.S. Kahn, E.J. Burton, C. King, J.B. Paduan, C.G. Wheat, F. Girard, S. Sudek, A.M. Hartwell, A.D. Sherman, P.R. McGill, A. Schnittger, J.R. Voight, and E.J. Martin. 2023. Abyssal hydrothermal springs—Cryptic incubators for brooding octopus. Science Advances, 9(34): 1–13.

Wolfson-Schwehr, M., C. Paull, D.W. Caress, R. Gwiazda, N.M. Nieminski, P.J. Talling, C. Carvajal, S. Simmons, and G. Troni. 2023. Time-lapse seafloor surveys reveal how turbidity currents and internal tides in Monterey Canyon interact with the seabed at centimeter-scale. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 128(4): e2022JF006705.

Clague, D. A., R.A. Zierenberg, J.B. Paduan, D.W. Caress, B.L. Cousens, B.M. Dreyer, A.S. Davis, J. McClain, and S.L. Ross. 2022. Emplacement and impacts of lava flows and intrusions on the sediment-buried Escanaba Segment of the Gorda mid-ocean ridge. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 432(107701): 1–30.

Negrete-Aranda, R., F. Neumann, J. Contreras, R.N. Harris, R.M. Spelz, R. Zierenberg, and D.W. Caress. 2021. Transport of heat by hydrothermal circulation in a young rift setting: Observations from the Auka and JaichMaa Ja'ag' vent field in the Pescadero Basin, southern Gulf of California. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 126(8): 1–20.  

Vega-Ramirez, L.A., R.M. Spelz-Madero, R. Negrete-Aranda, F. Neumann, D.W. Caress, D.A. Clague, J.B. Paduan, J. Contreras, and J.G. Peña-Dominguez. 2021. A new method for fault-scarp detection using linear discriminant analysis in high-resolution bathymetry data from the Alarcon Rise and Pescadero Basin. Tectonics, 40(12): 1–18.