High-Resolution Vertical Habitat Mapping of a Deep-Sea Cliff offshore Greenland

Loic Van Audenhaege *, Emmeline Broad, Katharine Hendry, Veerle A I Huvenne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Recent advances in deep-sea exploration with underwater vehicles have led to the discovery of vertical environments inhabited by a diverse sessile fauna. However, despite their ecological importance, vertical habitats remain poorly characterized by conventional downward-looking survey techniques. Here we present a high-resolution 3-dimensional habitat map of a vertical cliff hosting a suspension-feeding community at the flank of an underwater glacial trough in the Greenland waters of the Labrador Sea. Using a forward-looking set-up on a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), a high resolution Multibeam echosounder was used to map out the topography of the deep-sea terrain, including, for the first time, the backscatter intensity. Navigational accuracy was improved through a combination of the USBL and the DVL navigation of the ROV. Multi-scale terrain descriptors were derived and assigned to the 3D point cloud of the terrain. Following an unsupervised habitat mapping approach, the
application of a K-means clustering revealed four potential habitat types, driven by geomorphology, backscatter and fine-scale features. Using groundtruthing seabed images, the ecological significance of the four habitat clusters was assessed in order to evaluate the benefit of unsupervised habitat mapping for further fine-scale ecological studies of vertical environments. This study demonstrates the importance of a priori knowledge of the terrain around habitats that are rarely explored for ecological investigations. It also emphasizes the importance of remote characterization of habitat distribution for assessing the representativeness of benthic faunal studies often constrained by time-limited sampling activities. This case study further identifies current limitations (e.g., navigation accuracy, irregular terrain acquisition difficulties) that
can potentially limit the use of deep-sea terrain models for fine-scale investigations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number669372
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Early online date22 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jun 2021


  • marine habitat mapping
  • deep-water vertical cliff
  • ROV
  • multibeam echosounder
  • terrain point cloud
  • Greenland glacial trough
  • suspension-feeding community
  • underwater exploration


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