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US Ship Sets Out To Define Arctic Territory

August 12, 2008

United States and University of New Hampshire scientists will depart from Barrow, Alaska to begin a three-week journey on Thursday to compose a map of the ocean floor and the continental shelf for future oil and natural gas exploration.

Scientist onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy plan to create a three-dimensional map of the Arctic Ocean floor in a relatively unexplored area known as the Chukchi borderland.

Then, on September 6, Canadian scientists will join the Healy to collect data determining the thickness of sediment in the region. That is one factor a country can use to define its extended continental shelf.

With oil at $114 a barrel, after hitting a record $147 in July, and sea ice melting fast, countries like Russia and the United States are looking north for possible energy riches.

“These are places nobody’s gone before, in essence, so this is a first step,” said Margaret Hays, the director of the oceanic affairs office at the U.S. State Department. She said the data collected may provide information to the public about future oil and natural gas sources for the United States.

The Healy launch marks the fourth year that the United States has collected data to define the limits of its continental shelf in the Arctic.

Russia, which has claimed 460,000 square miles of Arctic waters, last summer planted its flag on the ocean floor of the North Pole.

The research could also shed light on other potential energy resources, like methane frozen in ice under the ocean, that Hays said might one day have some commercial interest.

Larry Mayer, a university scientist, said melting sea ice, presumably from global warming, helped last year’s mission. “It was bad for the Arctic, but very very good for mapping.”

Image Caption: The Coast Guard cutter Healy is shown in Arctic waters in 2007. Rear Adm. Arthur E. Brooks, commander of the Coast Guard’s Alaska district, said he envisions a seasonal base with a helicopter, small response boats and possibly a fixed-wing plane — for traditional missions including assisting ships in distress, security surveillance and search and rescue — to deal with increasing traffic in the Arctic due to the warming climate. (Coast Guard Photo)

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