Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 329–345 | Cite as

Geomorphology of mesophotic coral ecosystems: current perspectives on morphology, distribution, and mapping strategies

  • S. D. LockerEmail author
  • R. A. Armstrong
  • T. A. Battista
  • J. J. Rooney
  • C. Sherman
  • D. G. Zawada


This paper presents a general review of the distribution of mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) in relationship to geomorphology in US waters. It was specifically concerned with the depth range of 30–100 m, where more than 186,000 km2 of potential seafloor area was identified within the US Gulf of Mexico/Florida, Caribbean, and main Hawaiian Islands. The geomorphology of MCEs was largely inherited from a variety of pre-existing structures of highly diverse origins, which, in combination with environmental stress and physical controls, restrict the distribution of MCEs. Sea-level history, along with depositional and erosional processes, played an integral role in formation of MCE settings. However, mapping the distribution of both potential MCE topography/substrate and existing MCE habitat is only beginning. Mapping techniques pertinent to understanding morphology and MCE distributions are discussed throughout this paper. Future investigations need to consider more cost-effective and remote methods (such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and acoustics) in order to assess the distribution and extent of MCE habitat. Some understanding of the history of known MCEs through coring studies would help understand their initiation and response to environmental change over time, essential for assessing how they may be impacted by future environmental change.


Mesophotic Coral Geomorphology US Waters 



This publication is supported in part by NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program, the United States Geological Survey, and the Perry Institute for Marine Science. Views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporting agencies. SDL thanks Al Hine for his leadership and collaboration on Florida platform studies over the years. RAA thanks Hanumant Singh and the Seabed AUV operations team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and funding by the CenSSIS ERC of the National Science Foundation under Grant EEC-9986821. TAB thanks Bryan Costa who helped in running the spatial predictions for MCE areas. JJR thanks Tony Montgomery and Heather Spalding for collaborating on the Pacific Islands review section. DGZ thanks the USGS Coastal Marine and Geology Program for funding his involvement in this project. References to non-USGS products and services are provided for information only and do not constitute endorsement or warranty, expressed or implied, by the US Government, as to their suitability, content, usefulness, functioning, completeness, or accuracy. This manuscript benefited from thoughtful reviews by Robert N. Ginsburg and other anonymous reviewers, their effort is greatly appreciated.


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Copyright information

© GovernmentEmployee: U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. D. Locker
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. A. Armstrong
    • 2
  • T. A. Battista
    • 3
  • J. J. Rooney
    • 4
  • C. Sherman
    • 2
  • D. G. Zawada
    • 5
  1. 1.College of Marine ScienceUniversity of South FloridaSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of Puerto Rico-MayagüezMayagüezUSA
  3. 3.NOAA/NOS/CCMA Biogeography BranchSilver SpringUSA
  4. 4.Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric ResearchUniversity Hawaii and NOAA, NMFS, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science CenterHonoluluUSA
  5. 5.St. Petersburg Coastal Marine Science Center, U.S. Geological SurveySt. PetersburgUSA

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