In the Northeast, "we've been able to obtain the fish we need without having to go deeper, into these canyons," he says. Now, fishermen can harvest from depths as low as 2,000 meters, giving them access to areas they couldn't reach in the past – including the canyons.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other stakeholders, "are saying: Wait, before we go and open up everything for fishing, let's go see what's out there," Dr. Shank says.
In addition, researchers are looking at the potential for undersea landslides along the continental margin, events that can triggered tsunamis.
In November 1929, for instance, a powerful undersea earthquake struck some 280 kilometers south of Newfoundland, triggering an undersea landslide that involved an estimated 200 cubic kilometers (48 cubic miles) of material. The tsunami snapped undersea telegraph cables and killed 27 people in Newfoundland and one person in Nova Scotia.
"There's a lot of evidence of past, large submarine landslides," says Jason Chaytor, a marine geologist at the US Geological Survey's Woods Hole Science Center. "We're trying to understand how old those landslides are" and whether the mechanisms that triggered them are still active.