Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alaska Arctic Update September 2010: Sea Ice Minimum, Vessel Grounding, Gas, Fish, Exxon Valdez-Deepwater Horizon, Coast Survey Mapping, Broadband

In keeping with this weblog’s two most recent posts, which provide brief updates on recent arctic developments in Canada  and the United States, readers are referred to the September 15, 2010, broadcast and transcript of Alaska News Nightly (produced by the Alaska Public Radio Network) for an Alaska (mostly arctic) update.  Yesterday’s broadcast is a particularly fine edition of this consistently reliable news program and highlights how Alaska faces in microcosm many of the issues facing the Arctic as a whole.

Reports include excellent interviews, both worth hearing in their entirety, about:

-- the Arctic Sea Ice Minimum for 2010, reached September 10, which is the third lowest since satellite data collection began in 1979 (for details visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center  )

-- Tlingit contributions to mapping “Russian America” in the 19th century, providing many of the place names and cartographic features, e.g. from the Lind Canal to Yukon River, that cartographer George Davidson used in his maps for the US Coast Survey. NOAA historian John Cloud was in Klukwan earlier this month to present scanned images of the maps to descendants of the original mappers, the Tlingit leader Kohklux and his wives. The maps are in the public domain, and will soon be posted on this NOAA site; NOAA asks to be credited as the source.

Other stories relate to:
-- Alaska lawyers heading to the Gulf, to bring post-Exxon Valdez experience to litigation resulting from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.
-- a barge running aground about 40 miles west of Prudhoe Bay, although this time equipment failure rather than outdated charts caused the grounding.
-- the proposed All-Alaska Gas Pipeline, as discussed by candidates for governor (see also two different angles on the pipeline here and here).
-- an award-winning commercial seafood processing cooperative plant in Sitka that sends between 50 and 60% of its product overseas.
-- the future of broadband in Alaska, with a focus on public libraries.

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.