Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arctic passage


The maritime industry is preparing for major shifts in navigation, due to the improvements at the Panama Canal.
For a longer view of maritime changes, the world is looking northward as well.

The last thirty years have seen a significant retreat in Arctic sea ice, currently allowing for over a month of navigable water through the Arctic Ocean.
As Arctic ice recedes, countries are looking forward to faster sea routes across the top of the world.
A transit between Vladivostok and Rotterdam, using the northern route, can save approximately 10 days and $300,000 per ship.
Alternately, the voyage is nearly 11,000 nautical miles through the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans – including transits through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Northern Sea Route

The reductions in ice coverage, seen over longer periods, have resulted in a doubling of vessel traffic in the Arctic since 2005.
Mounting cargo demands, emerging resource development, and the growing popularity of ecotourism add to burgeoning interest in the region.

NOAA is working now, on several fronts, for the new era of Arctic navigation.

U.S. joins Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission

On October 6, 2010, NOAA led a U.S. delegation that formally established a new Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission with four other nations.
The commission, which also includes Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the Russian Federation, will promote cooperation in hydrographic surveying and nautical chart making.
The problem is that many Arctic nautical charts are out of date or nonexistent.
Inadequate charts pose a significant risk to marine safety, and could potentially lead to loss of life or environmental disaster.

NOAA issues draft U.S. Arctic Nautical Charting Plan

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey recently drafted a nautical charting plan devoted exclusively to the U.S. Arctic.
NOAA is sharing the draft plan with other government partners, including the U.S. Navy, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard, and will solicit comments from both industry and the public.
(see testimony of Capt John Lowell, NOAA)
The draft provides detailed plans for additional nautical chart coverage in U.S. Arctic waters and describes the activities necessary to produce and maintain the charts.
The final plan is slated for completion in May 2011.

The Northwest passage

The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone includes 568,000 square nautical miles of U.S. Arctic waters. About a third of U.S. Arctic waters are navigationally significant.
The majority of charted Arctic waters were surveyed with obsolete technology dating back to the 1800s.
Most of the shoreline along Alaska’s northern and western coasts has not been mapped since 1960, if ever, and confidence in the region’s nautical charts is extremely low.

NOAA surveys high transit areas

Responding to a request from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Maritime Pilots, and the commercial shipping industry, NOAA sent one of its premier surveying vessels, NOAA Ship Fairweather, to detect navigational dangers in critical Arctic waters that have not been charted for more than 50 years.

Fairweather, whose homeport is Ketchikan, Alaska, spent July and August 2010 examining seafloor features, measuring ocean depths and supplying data for updating NOAA’s nautical charts spanning 350 square nautical miles in the Bering Straits around Cape Prince of Wales.
The data will also support scientific research on essential fish habitat and will establish new tidal datums in the region.

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