GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 96-10
Presentation Time: 10:50 AM


GAINES, Sarah M., Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882, RAINEAULT, Nicole, Ocean Exploration Trust, 220 S. Ferry Rd, Narragansett, RI 02882, KELLEY, Christopher, Department of Oceanography, Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, University of Hawai`i at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822 and BALBAS, Andrea, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 CEOAS Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331

The often-quoted comparison that more is known about the surface of the moon than the seafloor, which spans more than 70% of our globe, is an important call to action for geoscientists. Although the focus of submarine exploration is usually marine biodiversity, the substrate hosting benthic life has critical lessons to share about the origin of the earth, in some cases redefining our understanding of the limits of life itself. Only with a more thorough understanding of marine geologic sites, will the global geoheritage community be in a position to recognize unique sites. From a practical perspective, understanding the geology of our seafloor is a critical foundation for marine spatial planning, as well as resource management of marine protected areas.

For example, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2009 based on mixed natural and cultural criteria, responding to a gap in the World Heritage list of mixed marine sites. It is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world after expansion to the US EEZ in 2016. The outstanding universal value recognized by UNESCO includes important archaeological sites in Hawaii, the cultural understanding of a kinship between people and the natural world, the marine biodiversity, and the hotspot progression demonstrated by the islands and seamounts, a geological heritage. Until 2018 little was known about the expanded area (50-200 nm) of the Monument. In September 2018, The Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) mapped 10 previously unmapped seamounts and seafloor (16,594 km2) in the expanded area and conducted 11 remotely operated vehicle dives with the goals of determining the age and genesis of the seamounts as well as locating high-density coral and sponge communities. OET invited the public along via the website, allowing shipboard participants to share the discoveries and excitement of exploration with viewers on shore. Both scientists and the public asked questions and watched the live ROV exploration. After the expedition, samples and data were made available to the public and highlights were published. The goal of sharing remote, submerged geoheritage sites with the public is nascent, but there are an increasing number of tools to provide informative and interactive experiences at these sites.