Saturday, July 18, 2009

Canadian and U.S. Icebreakers Poised for Joint UNCLOS Mapping of Arctic Ocean

The Canadian Coast Guard Cutter Louis S. St-Laurent is scheduled to embark Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Monday, July 20, en route to an early August rendezvous with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20) in the Arctic Ocean.  There the two vessels will begin their second joint Canadian-United States mission to map the Arctic Ocean under the process established by Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  The Healy left its home port of Seattle earlier this month and is currently (July 18) transiting from the Gulf of Alaska along the Aleutian Peninsula to the Bering Sea.

Both ships can be tracked online, the Louis here and the Healy here.

Accounts of the 2008 joint cruise are available from the U.S. Geological Survey (Jon Childs and Deborah Hutchinson) and the U.S. Coast Guard (Captain F.J. Sommer), and in academic publications (e.g. Eos, D. Hutchinson /H.Ruth Jackson et al). A complete Cruise Report (Larry A. Mayer and Andy Armstrong) from the Healy 0805 solo cruise just prior to meeting the Louis in 2008 is available from the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center at University of New Hampshire (CCOM/JHC), as is data from all CCOM/JHC Law of the Sea cruises.  The two countries work together on mapping while abiding by their different approaches to how much of the data can be made public; some have called for Canada to return to greater transparency with respect to its seafloor data.

The 2009 Cruise Plan for the Healy component (0905) of this year’s joint cruise is available from, as is the Joint Healy-Louis Science plan for last year’s cruise.  Natural Resources Canada provides an excellent overview of the Canadian UNCLOS Bathymetric Mapping Program prepared by J. Richard MacDougall, Wendell Sanford and Jacob Verhoef for the Canadian Hydrographic Conference and National Surveyors Conference 2008.  Finally, an e-brochure recently published by the U.S. Minerals Management Service discusses the basics of the U.S. effort to map its extended continental shelf (a term of convenience, it should be recalled, that does not appear in the Law of the Sea Convention).

The Louis S. St-Laurent is named after Louis Stephen St. Laurent (1882-1973), who served as Canada’s Minister of Justice 1941-46 and Secretary of State for External Affairs 1946-48 before becoming Prime Minister of Canada in 1948, a post which he held until 1957.

The Healy is named after Michael Augustine Healy (1939-1904) the U.S. Coast Guard’s first African-American captain, who commanded several vessels that patrolled the vast waters off of the new Alaskan territory after its purchase from the Russian Empire in 1867.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.