Saturday, September 8, 2012

Summer 2012 US Extended Continental Shelf Arctic Mapping

The US Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) mapping project continues in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The USCGC Healy 1202 got underway from Barrow on August 26 with the ECS science crew on board.

Larry Mayer, Director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center, University of New Hampshire/NOAA, is leading the cruise with Capt. Andy Armstrong, who is blogging about the cruise here.

Browsing the hourly images from the ship's Aloftcon camera is one way to track the remarkable absence of sea ice at various latitudes. Armstrong's blog entry for September 6  says it is shocking to see "entirely open water" at 81 degrees north, but not surprising given the regular ice reports on which they are relying.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center Arctic Sea Ice News provides frequent updates on the record Arctic sea ice minimum reached this summer.  The record minimum set in 2007 was, coincidentally, reached the day Healy 1202 got underway; it has continued to drop throughout September.    As NSIDC reports today, the sea ice

"is now below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely remains in the melt season."

Captain Armstrong's blog entries for August 31 and September 5 share remarkable images from  previously undiscovered seafloor features west of the Nautilus Basin.

The cruise is expected to wrap up the last week in September.

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.