U.S. and Canada Collaborate on Arctic Sea Bed Mapping

WASHINGTON, DC, September 3, 2008 (ENS) – A joint Canada-U.S. scientific expedition this fall will map the unexplored Arctic sea floor where the U.S. and Canada may have sovereign rights over oil and gas resources and control over activities such as sea bed mining.

The expedition will be collaboratively undertaken by the U.S. and Canada using two ships. Both countries will use the resulting data to establish the outer limits of the continental shelf, according to the criteria set out in the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The extended continental shelf, the seafloor and subsoil beyond 200 nautical miles from shore that meet those criteria, is an area of great scientific interest and potential economic development.

Satellite data shows the extent of Arctic sea ice this year is the second-smallest since observations from space began 30 years ago. This is the second year in a row that the most direct route through the Northwest Passage has opened up, making access to the Arctic Ocean easier for ships.

The U.S. Geological Survey will lead data collection from September 6 to October 1 on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy to map the Arctic seafloor.

The Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada will follow Healy on the Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St. Laurent and study the geology of the sub-seafloor.

“Use it or lose it is the first principle of sovereignty in the Arctic,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, announcing the geo-mapping program. “To develop the North we must know the North. To protect the North, we must control the North. And to accomplish all our goals for the North, we must be in the North.”

Harper said the mission will “use the full tools of modern geological science to encourage economic development and defend Canadian sovereignty throughout the North.”

Possible foot of the slope north of Chukchi Plateau
looking south-southwest. Water depth
range in image is -2880 to -3800 meters.
(Image courtesy U. New Hampshire)

“Managed properly, Canada’s share of this incredible endowment will fuel the prosperity of our country for generations. And geo-mapping will pave the way for the resource development of the future,” said the prime minister.

“The two-ship experiment allows both the U.S. and Canada to collect and share complementary data in areas where data acquisition is costly, logistically difficult, and sometimes dangerous,” said USGS scientist Deborah Hutchinson, who will sail aboard Louis.

“Both countries benefit through sharing of resources and data as well as increasing likelihood of success by utilizing two ice-breaker ships in these remote areas of the Arctic Ocean,” Hutchinson said.

“Healy will utilize an echo sounder, which emits sounds signals in the water, to map the seafloor. This will be done using a multibeam bathymetry system,” said USGS scientist Jonathan Childs, chief scientist on the Healy during the September cruise.

“Unlike conventional echo sounders, which measure the water depth at a point directly beneath the ship, the multibeam system collects a ‘swath’ of depth information about three kilometers wide along the ship’s path, creating a three-dimensional view of the seafloor.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded U.S. participation in this mission and collaborated with the University of New Hampshire to collect bathymetric data in the Arctic Ocean on the Healy from August 14 to September 5.

The U.S. portion of this research is coordinated by the Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, a U.S. government group headed by the U.S. Department of State. The task force includes the USGS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, National Science Foundation, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Navy, Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Executive Office of the President, Mineral Management Service, and the Arctic Research Commission.

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