Inferring benthic megafaunal sediment reworking activity in relation to bottom water oxygen in Barkley Canyon, NE Pacific from video and acoustic imaging analysis




Ciraolo, Alessia C.
Snelgrove, Paul V. R.
Schillinger, Douglas
De Leo, Fabio

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Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers


Sediment reworking activity influences benthic functioning expressed as nutrient fluxes and carbon cycling. Multiple studies have addressed sediment reworking based on observations from individual instrument types (e.g., video camera, side-scan sonar, multibeam), but none have considered reworking based on two or more complementary instruments. We therefore analyzed deep-sea megafaunal and reworked sediment traces by combining and comparing observations from non-invasive instruments, an underwater video camera and a rotary sonar, as part of the node of Ocean Networks Canada's NEPTUNE cabled observatory, located at 396 m depth in Barkley Canyon Upper Slope, NE Pacific Ocean. Specifically, we examined sediment traces and benthic megafaunal communities during two different sampling periods (May and September 2013) and at two different spatial scales of analysis. The camera images (∼0.5 m2) documented significantly lower megafaunal density during the period of reduced oxygen concentrations (May). Although we did not observe significant differences in sediment trace diversity and density between the two study periods, we were interested in how the relief traces generated by unidentified gastropods (likely the family Solariellidae) influenced sediment mixing. Relief traces showed higher density in low oxygen (May, 1.87 count m−2) than in high oxygen (September, 1.17 count m−2) conditions. Sonar images (∼1268 m2), which lacked sufficient resolution to allow identification of benthic organisms, documented distributions of biological pits (regions of low backscatter), a significantly greater proportion of bioturbated seafloor area, and increased in pit size with increased oxygen levels. Pits dominated sonar images at this location and persisted through the two study periods. Most sonar field of view subsections showed a significant increase in circularity of pit shapes, likely explained by increased reworked sediment with increasing oxygen concentration. We conclude that, except for relief burrows, higher reworked sediment area coincided with the highest oxygen concentration, which aligns with previously established reduced metabolic activity by benthos adapted to oxygen minimum zones. Furthermore, we emphasize the complementarity of the two imaging techniques (video and sonar) in understanding deep-sea benthic ecosystem dynamics, as well as the importance of considering multiple spatial scales when investigating proxies of bioturbation activity.


We are thankful for the support from ONC’s marine and digital operations staff for servicing and maintaining the NEPTUNE observatory and for the curation and quality control of all oceanographic data streams used in this study. We thank Dr. Jacopo Aguzzi for providing suggestions on the oblique perspective grid, and Azeez Sarafadeen, for help with the video analysis. Drs. Amanda Bates, Suzanne Dufour, Jasmin Godbold, Duncan McIlroy Evan Edinger, and three anonymous reviewers provided very helpful comments on on earlier versions of this manuscript.



Ciraolo, A. C., Snelgrove, P. V. R., Schillinger, D., De Leo, F. C. (2024). Inferring benthic megafaunal sediment reworking activity in relation to bottom water oxygen in Barkley Canyon, NE Pacific from video and acoustic imaging analysis. Deep Sea Research I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 205, 104236.