August 2, 2010

US, Canada Join Forces To Map Arctic Seafloor

Scientists from the United States and Canada have announced plans to embark on a joint expedition to map the Arctic seafloor this summer.

The expedition, which was announced via a July 26 press release, is set to begin today (August 2) and will run through September 6. The five-week mission marks the third straight year that the two North American nations have collaborated to study the Arctic seafloor and the continental shelf.

According to the press release, one main focus of the expedition is "to help define the outer limits of the continental shelf"¦ Each coastal nation may exercise sovereign rights over the natural resources of their continental shelf, which includes the seabed and subsoil. These rights include control over minerals, petroleum, and sedentary organisms such as clams, crabs and coral."

"The program seeks to help both nations determine how far north they may extend their sovereignty, a potentially lucrative right in an era of melting Arctic sea ice and worldwide demand for the oil, natural gas and other minerals believed to lie beneath the seafloor," noted Reuters reporter Yereth Rosen in a Sunday morning article.

"Under the United Nations [UN] Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal nations have sovereignty out to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines, including rights to the minerals and natural resources there"¦ If the nations can prove there is an extended underwater continental shelf, they may be able to claim sovereignty beyond 200 nautical miles," Rosen added.

American scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will set sail on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. They will depart from an Alaskan port on August 2, and will meet up at sea with their Canadian colleagues on board the Louis S. St-Laurent.

"The ships will alternately break through the Arctic sea ice for each other," according to the press release. "The Healy will map the shape of the seafloor using a multibeam echo sounder, and the Louis S. St-Laurent will collect multi-channel seismic reflection and refraction data to determine sediment thickness."

"The Arctic Ocean is an area of great interest for science, resource conservation, and possible economic development," USGS scientist Deborah Hutchinson said in the media statement. "Because there is an area with considerable overlap between the U.S. and Canadian extended continental shelves, it makes sense to share data sets and work together in the remote and challenging environments of the Arctic Ocean."


Image 1: Sunset over sea ice along the Arctic Ocean. Credit: Jessica K Robertson/USGS

Image 2: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic. Credit: USGS


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