Researchers to map Long Island Sound seafloor

Kathy Moser, DEC assistant commissioner, talks about the Kathy Moser, DEC assistant commissioner, talks about the upcoming surveying project with the Stony Brook research vessel "Seawolf" stationed at the Port Jeff village dock in Port Jefferson. (Aug. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

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A boat outfitted with state-of-the-art mapping technology will soon provide researchers and regulators with eyes in the depths of Long Island Sound.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled in Port Jefferson on Friday a pilot project to map part of the Sound's seafloor, to better understand where specific underwater ecosystems exist and how they function.

Partnering with researchers from Stony Brook and Columbia universities, the agency will equip the Seawolf research vessel with multibeam SONAR technology. By sending sound waves downward and analyzing the time and frequency in which they return, researchers can glean detailed information about the seafloor, said Dr. Roger Flood, a marine geologist at Stony Brook.

"It's a real investment in the future," he said.

Officials said they hope the Seawolf -- one of two boats for the project -- pushes off later this year. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency ship has already begun charting the mid-Sound area from New York to Connecticut.

The rest of the seafloor will be mapped during the 18-month pilot program, at a cost of nearly $1.4 million. It's funded by a 2004 settlement between the two states and companies with energy infrastructure projects in the Sound.

Along with creating a three-dimensional map of the seafloor, researchers will use wave frequencies to analyze plant and animal matter in sediment as much as 32 feet below the seafloor's surface.

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Such detail will give regulators unprecedented knowledge of where and how to promote sustainable development, said Karen Chytalo, of the DEC's Long Island Sound Cable Fund Steering Committee. "We'd always been in a response role before this," she added.

For Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the math is simple. "The better the science, the better the management, the better the protection of the Sound," she said.

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