Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission Meeting, 27-29 September 2011

The Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission (ARHC) was established a year ago in October 2010, and is currently holding its second meeting in Copenhagen (27-29 September 2011).   Documents submitted for this meeting, including national reports from all five coastal states and a status report (ArHC2-11A) on plans for an Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure  (Arctic SDI) are available on the ARHC meeting website.  The ARCH held its first meeting in Ottawa (4-6 October 2010). At the first meeting, the report of the US Coastal Hydrographic Commission (USCHC Update)ARHC1-04B indicated that technical experts met in Ottawa on July 22, 2010 in anticipation of a maritime boundary agreement in the Beaufort Sea (see media reports and earlier posts from February 2010 and March 2010 on the progress toward resolution of this maritime boundary dispute).  Technical discussions continue in anticipation of resolving this well-managed maritime boundary disagreement between Canada and the United States.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

R/V Marcus G. Langseth underway for Chukchi Edges Project

As is clear from following the links to the right of this blog post, the USCGC Healy has been in the Arctic Ocean for several weeks on its “Law of the Sea Extended Continental Shelf” mapping cruise.  This is the fifth year that Healy is working jointly with the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent, collecting data to inform the eventual submission of reports to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The Research Vessel (R/V) Marcus G. Langseth embarked September 8, 2011, from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on a different kind of arctic mapping cruise.

As explained on the Langseth Chukchi Edges Project website, “The primary purpose of this cruise is to collect Multi-Channel Seismic Reflection (MCS) data across the transition from the Chukchi Shelf to the Chukchi Borderland.”  One purpose the data will serve is to provide imaging of the transition between these two continental blocks, thus helping to narrow down when and over how long a period the two blocks were in relative motion with each other.  That information is key to understanding the geological history of the area.

As the project's chief scientist, Dr. Bernard Coakley from University of Alaska-Fairbanks, explains:

“The geological history of the Amerasian Basin is poorly understood, in part due to the lack of identified plate boundaries. These boundaries must exist to explain the basin history. Identification of these structures will make it possible to reconstruct the development of the basin, which will substantially improve our understanding of the surrounding continents.”

R/V Langseth is operated by Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University.  The Langseth is not an ice-strengthened vessel and this is the first time it has been used in the Arctic open water season (for more on the expected ice environment for the cruise, see the cruise website.  LDEO has an office devoted to Marine Mammal Protection and Dr. Coakley has worked closely with NOAA to obtain the necessary permits for MCS activity. Community Observer Reynold (RJ) Aveoganna is part of the international team working with Coakley, which includes scientists from Korea, Germany, Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom, representing seven different universities and research organizations.

The Langseth is scheduled to return to Dutch Harbor on October 10, 2011. Coakley will be blogging for the New York Times Scientist at Work feature throughout the cruise, beginning with today's post under Notes from the Field; subsequent posts will be available here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guyana files submission with the CLCS

On 6 September 2011 Guyana filed the 57th submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (all 57 submissions are identified on the CLCS website).

The Executive Summary of the submission, available here, indicates that Guyana submits "data and information concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf along the northern part of its continental margin for the consideration of the CLCS without prejudice to any potential boundary delimitations with any other States which may be conducted at a later date."*

Thus, any potential boundary delimitation with Guyana's neighbor to the north, Venezuela, will not be prejudiced by the submission or any eventual Commission recommendation (Venezuela is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention).  Whether or not the neighboring state is a party to the Convention, such provisions are standard in submissions to the CLCS when the submitting state has unresolved boundaries or potential boundary issues with neighboring states. The Law of the Sea Convention (art. 76, para. 10, and Annex II, art. 9) makes clear that the Commission's role is not to address any such boundary issues, but rather only to consider the data regarding the extent of the continental shelf without prejudice to such issues.
From Guyana's Executive Summary, p. 16: "Figure 1. The outer limits of the continental shelf of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana (red line) beyond 200 nautical miles (black line) measured from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured according to paragraph 7 determined by straight lines not exceeding 60 nautical miles in length, connecting fixed points, defined by coordinates of latitude and longitude."
Consideration of Guyana's submission will be part of the Commission's provisional agenda for the 29th session of the CLCS, scheduled to meet in New York in March/April 2012.  The last submission to the Commission was by Madagascar in April 2011.

*emphasis not in original

UPDATE October 1, 2011: Guyana and Venezuela sign agreement pledging to "negotiate the delimitation of maritime boundaries between the two States."

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.