NOAA maps Bering Straits for navigation
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent one of its surveying vessels, Fairweather, to detect navigational dangers in critical Arctic waters that have not been charted for more than 50 years.
NOAA is responding to a request from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Alaska Maritime Pilots and the commercial shipping industry.
Fairweather, based in Ketchikan, Alaska, will spend July and August 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, the agency said.
'Just as the growing numbers of cars on the road cause traffic 'chokepoints,' more ships traversing northern passageways can choke maritime traffic. These maritime traffic snarls occur when nautical charts are outdated, ships do not have sufficient information for navigation or changing maritime conditions — like sea level rise or movements of the seafloor — are not tracked,' NOAA said in a statement.
The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone includes 568,000 square nautical miles of U.S. Arctic waters. 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.
'As Arctic sea ice recedes, economic activity in the region is going to expand dramatically. Alaskans rely on NOAA to help us make sure that things like oil and gas development and marine transportation are done safely and responsibly,' said Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska.
About one-third of U.S. Arctic waters are considered navigationally significant. Of that area, NOAA's Office of Coast Survey has identified 38,000 square nautical miles as survey priorities. NOAA estimates that it will take well more than 25 years to map the prioritized areas of the Arctic seafloor.
The Fairweather is equipped with the latest in hydrographic survey technology — multibeam survey systems; high-speed, high-resolution side-scan sonar; position and orientation systems; hydrographic survey launches; and an onboard data-processing server.