Submerged habitat mapping: understanding responses to major storms

Research vessel used for submerged habitat mapping. In addition to sonar and biological sampling equipment, the research vessel is outfitted with several computers during data collection missions. Credit: Monique LaFrance Bartley/URI-GSO

Contact: Charles Roman (NPS),, (401) 874-6886

Scientists are exploring the submerged marine resources of coastal parks to understand how these habitats are changing in response to storms, sea-level rise, ocean warming and other factors so that effective protection and management strategies can be implemented.

Like the terrestrial environment, the submerged landscape of Northeast coastal parks is complex. Habitat types and features may include seagrass meadows, mud, sand, and cobble bottoms, natural and dredge channels, shellfish beds, and more; however, the current information base on the vast park areas is limited. Following Hurricane Sandy we have embarked on a major effort to map and inventory these submerged marine areas. At Assateague Island National Seashore, researchers (Univ of Delaware) are mapping the entire 58km ocean shoreline, repeating an earlier mapping effort, providing a comparison of pre- and post-Sandy conditions. Researchers (Rutgers University) are studying both the ocean and bay portions of Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit, providing a complete assessment of this barrier spit that sustained significant flood inundation during Sandy. At Fire Island National Seashore researchers (University of Rhode Island) are mapping the bayside of the Wilderness Area, a portion of the Seashore where a breach through the island was created by Hurricane Sandy. Scientists at Cape Cod National Seashore (Center for Coastal Studies) are mapping a diversity of submerged areas with management implications, including enclosed embayments and portions of ocean and bay shores. These data will support our resource stewardship responsibility, identify habitats that may require restoration, facilitate the design of long-term monitoring programs, support sediment and ecosystem modeling efforts, and provide a baseline to effectively evaluate changes in response to future storms, ocean warming, pollution and other influences.  


More information: 

The following is a Resource Brief describing the Submerged Habitat Mapping project a four coastal parks:

The following google site houses NPS Hurricane Sandy proposals, project progress reports and general information about each project. This site continues to be developed:


Profile of student scientist working on NPS Submerged Mapping Projects:

Photo slider of Hurricane Sandy Submerged mapping being conducted at Fire Island NS: