Deep-sea canyons are steep-sided valleys cut into the seafloor of the continental slope, sometimes extending well onto the continental shelf. These submarine canyons vary in size, shape, and complexity. Some were scoured by the flow of rivers during past low sea level periods, but most formed via other erosional processes, such as mudslides, debris flows, and currents. These seafloor features are of interest to explorers because they provide an important connection between shallow and deep-water habitats and often feature a high biodiversity of animals as a result of their hard surfaces and nutrient rich currents flowing through them.
One of the tools scientists use to better understand these ecosystems is multibeam sonar, a process which uses sound waves to create an “image” of the canyon. Once the landscape of the canyon is better understood, scientists can then explore the canyon more closely with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to see what is living in the canyon.