This map shows physical habitat characteristics of the ocean in the Northeast region. Examples of important physical habitat characteristics are the geological composition of the seafloor and the chemistry of the water column. Seafloor, or benthic, habitats in the Northeast range from soft sand/mud substrates to rocky, complex, hard-bottom habitats. Sediment type, seabed form, and sediment stability are key factors defining habitats for fish, shellfish, and many other species. Water column, or pelagic, habitat characteristics include oceanographic variables, such as currents, that are three-dimensional and change over time in ways that are not depicted on this map. Pelagic habitats provide homes for marine life ranging from tiny phytoplankton at the base of the food web to the ocean’s largest inhabitants—whales and sharks. Characteristics of pelagic habitats influence migrations of marine species and enable the ocean to buffer earth’s climate.

Data Considerations

Many of these maps display physical habitat characteristics at a regional (or broader) scale. For that reason, they may not accurately depict localized habitat patterns; more-detailed analyses or site-specific studies may be necessary to characterize local habitats.

Several sediment grain size data layers are derived from the same USGS usSEABED Atlantic Coast Offshore Surficial Sediment Database. This database includes a wide range of sample ages and analytical techniques. Older data and non-quantitative analytical techniques can reduce the reliability of the data for a number of reasons. Therefore, we encourage users to interpret the patterns in these layers along with the usSEABED Data Quality Layer, which provides a score from low to high quality. Data with a score of low may be older, more qualitatively described, or collected using non-traditional methods, and therefore less desirable for use in quantitative assessments.

The sediment stability layer represents an estimate of sediment stability based on observations of grain size in underwater imagery and modeled estimates of shear stress (the force of bottom currents at the seabed) at a 1-kilometer grid size. Because very small-scale features can influence sediment stability, this map provides only a general characterization of sediment stability.

The oceanography data are long-term averages of dynamic variables. As a result, the oceanography maps do not accurately portray annual trends, seasonality, or the influence of short-term events on pelagic features or processes.


All data products are final and will be updated as described in the 2016 Northeast Ocean Plan.

The usSEABED Atlantic Coast Offshore Surficial Sediment Database is no longer being maintained by USGS.

We are working with regional partners to ensure that any new interpretations of sediment in the region use the East Coast Sediment Texture Database.

Support for Regional Ocean Planning

For information about how these data and maps were developed with stakeholder input and will be used to support regional ocean planning, please see the 2016 Northeast Ocean Plan at www.neoceanplanning.org.