From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 16, 2011 10:00 AM

Joint USA-Canada Arctic Ocean Survey Comes to an End

Yesterday marked the completion of a five year collaboration between the United States and Canada to survey the Arctic Ocean. As the changing Arctic climate causes the ice to melt, this region will become more accessible to resource recovery. The project's goal was to delineate the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the coastline. According the Convention of the Law of the Sea, each nation has sovereign rights to natural resources on or above the seabed on the extended continental shelf (ECS).


Possible natural resources obviously include energy resources such as oil and natural gas. It also includes mineral resources such as manganese nodules, ferromanganese crusts, and polymetallic sulfides. The sovereign rights would also cover fishing resources. The Arctic Ocean is home to abundant populations of clams and crabs.

2011 is the mission's final year. The US and Canadian agencies worked together for nearly six weeks in August and September. Both agencies used their state-of-the-art US and Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers, the Healy for the US, and the Louis S. St-Laurent for Canada.

"This two-ship approach was both productive and necessary in the Arctic's difficult and varying ice conditions," said Larry Mayer, Ph.D., U.S. chief scientist on the Arctic mission and co-director of the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center. "With one ship breaking ice for the other, the partnership increased the data either nation could have obtained operating alone, saved millions of dollars by ensuring data were collected only once, provided data useful to both nations for defining the extended continental shelf, and increased scientific and diplomatic cooperation."

Preliminary findings show the US ECS in the Arctic includes at least one million square kilometers, an area twice the size of California. The survey found undersea mountains and undersea plateaus. Depths were measured using a multibeam echo sounder.

USGS officials were also onboard, using the data to measure thickness of the sediments under the sea floor in order to better understand Arctic geology. The data obtained was used to produce high resolution maps.

Other metrics obtained include ocean acidity and ice conditions. This joint mission was vitally important in that it produced baseline data for future missions of exploration.

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Image credit: University of New Hampshire/NOAA

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