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Research Technical Report

Environmental Impact of a Submarine Cable: Case Study of the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC)/Pioneer Seamount Cable

Kogan, I., C.K. Paull, L. Kuhnz, S. von Thun, E. Burton, H.G. Greene, and J.P. Barry (December 2003)

Oral presentation at the American Geophysical Union Meeting, San Francisco, CA


To better understand the potential impacts of the presence of cables on the seabed, a topic of interest for which little data is published or publicly available, a study of the environmental impacts of the ATOC/Pioneer Seamount cable was conducted. The 95 km long, submarine, coaxial cable extends between Pioneer Seamount and the Pillar Point Air Force Station in Half Moon Bay, California. Approximately two thirds of the cable lies within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The cable is permitted to NOAA- Oceanic and Atmospheric Research for transmitting data from a hydrophone array on Pioneer Seamount to shore. The cable was installed unburied on the seafloor in 1995. The cable path crosses the continental shelf, descends to a maximum depth of 1,933 m, and climbs back upslope to 998 m depth near the crest of Pioneer Seamount. A total of 42 hours of video and 152 push cores were collected in 10 stations along cable and control transects using the ROVs Ventana and Tiburon equipped with cable-tracking tools. The condition of the cable, its effect on the seafloor, and distribution of benthic megafauna and infauna were determined.

Video data indicated the nature of interaction between the cable and the seafloor. Rocky nearshore areas, where wave energies are greatest, showed the clearest evidence of impact. Here, evidence of abrasion included frayed and unraveling portions of the cable's armor and vertical grooves in the rock apparently cut by the cable. The greatest incision and armor damage occurred on ledges between spans in irregular rock outcrop areas. Unlike the nearshore rocky region, neither the rocks nor the cable appeared damaged along outcrops on Pioneer Seamount. Multiple loops of slack cable added during a 1997 cable repair operation were found lying flat on the seafloor. Several sharp kinks in the cable were seen at 240 m water depths in an area subjected to intense trawling activity. Most of the cable has become buried with time in sediment substrates on the continental shelf whereas much of the cable remains exposed in sediments at deeper depths. The cable is exposed in rocky environments of the nearshore region and on all of Pioneer Seamount. The main biological features associated with the cable were organisms utilizing the cable as substrate and occasionally as shelter. Considerable care was taken to count megafauna in video transects and macrofauna from the top 5 cm of push cores. Few differences were found between cable and control sites at the 95% confidence level. Anemones Metridium farcimen and Stomphia sp. colonized the cable and were more abundant in cable transects at most soft sediment sites. Coarse extrapolation of the transect data suggest that more than 5,000 M. farcimen may live on the continental shelf portion of the cable. Several other species of anemones living on the cable are common along deeper sections of the cable route. Where the cable was buried, the presence of linear rows of sea anemones proved to be a reliable indicator of the cable's position. Flatfish and rockfish apparently congregate near the cable and were as much as 1 order of magnitude more abundant near the cable at some sites.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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