February 12, 2008

Arctic Mapping Could Support U.S. Claims

 andFederal scientists said that new mapping data could bolster any claims that the U.S. might make in the Arctic's oil and mineral reserves.

According to federal officials, should the U.S. choose to compete with Russia, Canada and other circumpolar nations under the international Law of the Sea treaty, data would support boundary claims off its Northern coasts.

Bathymetric soundings taken last year show that the foot of Alaska's continental slope may extend more than 100 nautical miles farther from the U.S. coast than previously believed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We found evidence that the foot of the slope was much farther out than we thought," said Larry Mayer, the chief scientist for the expedition last year. "That was the big discovery."

The U.S. is the only Arctic nation not party to the Law of the Sea treaty. President Bush has been pushing for its approval, but the treaty has been the focus of a heated debate in Congress.

"There's no question that the potential U.S. continental shelf and the potential shelf from Canada will have some overlap," said Andy Armstrong, NOAA co-director of the Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire. "We'll have to work with bordering nations to sort out any potential overlaps."

Mayer told Associated Press the boundary with Russia is "just about established."

During the $1.2 million operation, scientists covered more than 6,200 miles using multibeam sonar from the deck of an icebreaker, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy. What they returned with were the most detailed images ever to be collected of the region.

"These are entirely new insights into what the ocean bottom looks like," Barnum said. "The data will be used to gain a better understanding of many things, including ecosystems and climate circulation models."

The next expedition is planned for mid-August through early September, Mayer said, and will follow a geologic feature that could extend the foot of the slope to the north and east.

A U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden beneath the Arctic seabed. Growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice - opening up resource development and new shipping lanes - has added to the urgency of the claims.


On the Net:

Oceans and Law of the Sea

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA Press Release