Arctic waters long frozen will be chartered for the first time in over 50 years in an attempt to update nautical charts.
As Arctic ice recedes farther each year countries are looking to send their ships over the top of the world through safer and more efficient sea routes. NOAA has responded to requests to chart the waters and will send its ship Fairweather to navigate the waters and update NOAA’s nautical charts spanning 350 square nautical miles in the Bering Straits around Cape Prince of Wales.
“President Thomas Jefferson ordered a survey of the East Coast in 1807, when our country was losing more ships to unsafe navigation than to war,” explains Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather. “Today, we have better maps of the moon than of our own oceans. Our46-person crew is amassing ocean data that directly affects our economy and our ecosystems.”
Responding to requests from the US Navy, US Coast Guard, Alaska Maritime Pilots and the commercial shipping industry, NOAA is sending Fairweather, one of its premiere surveying vessels, to chart these waters which have been so long frozen in ice.
Fairweather, whose homeport is Ketchikan, Alaska, will spend July and August mapping the seafloor, examining its features, measuring ocean depths and supplying data to update the nautical charts of the region; the expedition will also provide data for scientific research of the area.
“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in the region and ships are operating with woefully outdated charts,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “I have introduced legislation that authorizes a significant increase in funding for mapping the Arctic, and I am pleased to see NOAA beginning the process. While this is a good start, we still need more resources to adequately map this region.”
“Commercial shippers aren’t the only ones needing assurances of safety in new trade routes,” notes Captain John Lowell, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The additional potential for passenger cruises, commercial fishing and other economic activities add to pressures for adequate response to navigational risks.”
“In Alaska we are seeing the effects of climate change more rapidly than anywhere else in the U.S.,” said Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska. “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. The 21st century mapping technology the Ketchikan-based Fairweather brings to this important charting mission is a great example of what the federal government needs to do as activity in the Arctic grows.”
Fairweather is equipped with the in hydrographic survey technology – multi-beam survey systems; high-speed, high-resolution side-scan sonar; position and orientation systems; hydrographic survey launches; and an on-board data-processing server. They will identified 38,000 square nautical miles as survey priorities, which will take more than 25 years to map.
Image Source: NOAA’s National Ocean Service via Flickr