Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mapping the Arctic missions

From The Globe&Mail / NOAA

Coast Guard sets sail on joint Arctic-mapping mission with U.S. cutter

A Coast Guard vessel is heading to the Arctic where scientists will map out another section of the continental shelf, staking out the undersea territory and resources that belong to Canada.

Louis St-Laurent will be accompanied on its four-month mission by the United States Coast Guard cutter Healy.

This photo, taken by a crew member aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis St. Laurent, shows the Canadian ship sailing beside the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy. (Courtesy Kelly Hansen)

This is the fourth year that a Canadian ship has spent mapping the shelf that lies below the Arctic waters to determine where it extends beyond the limit of 200 nautical miles from shore over which Canada already has exclusive jurisdiction to exploit and explore.

The aim is to have complete data to present to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by December 2013.
The commission was struck in 2003 under the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Canada ratified in 2003.

The UNCLOS uses a complicated formula based upon the geological characteristics of the sea floor to determine the outer limits of national boundaries beyond the
200-mile limit.

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said in a
release issued Monday the Arctic is a strategic piece of Canada’s future that must be sustained and protected.

“The Canadian Coast Guard, its exceptional fleet and skilled personnel are instrumental in our government's successful arctic missions as they lay the groundwork for our
Northern Strategy,” Mr. Ashfield said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is conducting the survey in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

In addition to providing a platform for the scientific work, the Louis S. St-Laurent will provide assistance to commercial shipping, which becomes viable during the summer months.

It will also support a multi-national project studying the oceanography of the currents in the Beaufort Sea to understand accumulation and release of fresh water, as well as to enhance understanding of environmental change in the Arctic.

The ship is not expected to return back to Newfoundland until Nov. 18.

NOAA Ship Fairweather sets sail to map areas of the Arctic

NOAA Ship Fairweather, a 231-foot survey vessel, departed Kodiak, Alaska, today on a mission to conduct hydrographic surveys in remote areas of the Arctic where depths have not been measured since before the U.S. bought Alaska in 1867.

NOAA will use the data to update nautical charts to help mariners safely navigate this important but sparsely charted region, which is now seeing increased vessel traffic because of the significant loss of Arctic sea ice.

Over the next two months, Fairweather will conduct hydrographic surveys covering 402 square nautical miles of navigationally significant waters in Kotzebue Sound, a regional distribution hub in northwestern Alaska in the Arctic Circle.

“The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading over time to a growth of vessel traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns,” explained NOAA Corps Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather. “Starting in 2010, we began surveying in critical Arctic areas where marine transportation dynamics are changing rapidly. These areas are increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges and fishing vessels.”

Fairweather and her survey launches are equipped with state-of-the-art acoustic technology to measure ocean depths, collect 3-D imagery of the seafloor, and detect underwater hazards that could pose a danger to surface vessels.
The ship itself will survey the deeper waters, while the launches work in shallow areas.

The city of Kotzebue, located on the shores of Kotzebue Sound at the tip of Baldwin Peninsula, serves as a supply hub for eleven Arctic villages and cannot currently accommodate deep draft vessels.
Those vessels must now anchor 15 miles offshore, and cargo is brought to shore by shallow draft barges.
This summer’s survey will also address a request for bathymetry to support navigation and installation for an offshore lightering facility used for heating and fuel oil.
An up-to-date NOAA chart, using data acquired from surveys with modern high-resolution sonar technology, can improve the efficiency – and safety – at this important location.

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.

Modern U.S. navigational charts are the best in the world, and are updated regularly by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.
However, they are only as good as the data available, and many of the soundings on today’s Arctic charts were acquired in the 1800’s with a weighted lead line, an antiquated technique.
In addition to surveying critical areas with modern multibeam sonar technologies, NOAA has initiated a major effort to update nautical charts that are inadequate for today’s needs, such as the deep draft vessels looking to exploit an open trade route through the Arctic.
NOAA’s Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, issued last month, prioritizes charts that need updating.

“NOAA’s Arctic surveys and charting plan identify the additional hydrographic coverage necessary to support a robust maritime transportation infrastructure in the coastal areas north of the Aleutian Islands,” said NOAA Corps Capt. Doug Baird, chief of
NOAA’s Marine Chart Division in the Office of Coast Survey.
“With the resources we have available, we are building the foundation to meet the burgeoning demands of ocean activities around Alaska’s waterways.”

Fairweather, one of NOAA’s three ships dedicated to hydrographic surveying, is part of the NOAA fleet of research ships operated, managed and maintained by
NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and civilian wage mariners.
The public can track the ship’s progress by visiting the
NOAA Ship Tracker.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, originally formed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, updates the nation’s
nautical charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies and searches for underwater obstructions and wreckage that pose a danger to navigation.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

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