Scientists collaborate in exploring continent's extended continental shelf
Washington - On September 16, a U.S.-Canadian collaboration to find out more about North America's extended continental shelf (ECS) will end another phase as two ships - the Canadian Coast Guard's Louis S. St-Laurent and the U.S. Coast Guard's Healy - complete their voyages of discovery.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington — On September 16, a U.S.-Canadian collaboration to find out more about North America’s extended continental shelf ( ECS ) will end another phase as two ships — the Canadian Coast Guard’s Louis S. St-Laurent and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Healy — complete their voyages of discovery.
Since August 7, scientists on both ships have been working together to set the boundaries of the outer edge of the North American continental shelf ( the portion that extends beyond 200 nautical miles from shore ) in the Arctic Ocean. The joint 2009 Continental Shelf Survey mission initially aimed to gather data in the region north of Alaska onto Alpha-Mendeleev Ridge and eastward to the Canada Archipelago, but was able to survey 250 kilometers farther north than anticipated.
This mission marks the second year in which the two nations have worked together on this project. Another joint mission is being planned for 2010.
Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and co-director of the Joint Hydrographic Center, is the chief scientist for the U.S. mission and Andy Armstrong, a physical scientist and co-director of the Joint Hydrographic Center, is the co-chief scientist. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) and the University of New Hampshire operate the Joint Hydrographic Center.
David Mosher is the Canadian chief scientist and Marc Rothwell captains the Louis S. St-Laurent.
One of the highlights of the 2009 mission was the August 25 discovery of an underwater mountain, known as a seamount, by scientists aboard the Healy. ( An underwater geologic feature needs to extend at least 1,000 meters above the seafloor to quality as a seamount. ) The not-yet-named seamount is the first discovered in the Arctic since 2003.
While mapping seafloor features targeted for investigation, the Healy detoured to map a small contour marked on a 2002 Russian map. As the ship traveled toward the new target, Christine Hedge, a teacher onboard as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program, noticed something larger beginning to appear on the monitors. She alerted the scientific team, which used the ship’s multibeam echosounder mapping system to show the full size of the seamount.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXTENDED CONTINENTAL SHELVES
Under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal nation is entitled to delineate the outer limit of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from shore. Within this extended continental shelf, the coastal state has sovereign rights over the natural resources.
Those rights include exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of nonliving resources of the seabed and subsoil of the continental shelf ( oil and natural gas deposits, for instance ); and exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of living, “sedentary” resources such as crustaceans and mollusks.
From a geopolitical standpoint, it is important that nations know and specifically declare to other nations the extent of sovereign rights with regard to extended continental shelves, according to the U.S. State Department. That knowledge helps establish the stability needed to develop and conserve these potentially resource-rich areas, the department says.
The data collection and analysis needed to establish the ECS also serve a range of other environmental, geologic, engineering and resource-management needs. The information offers insights into climate change, marine ecosystems, alternative energy sources, mineral resources and natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. The Arctic missions also advance scientific knowledge of a remote, nearly inaccessible environment.
Since 2001, the United States has gathered and analyzed data — including the depth, shape and geophysical characteristics of the seabed and subsea floor — to determine the outer limits of its extended continental shelf. In 2007, that effort became the Extended Continental Shelf Project, directed by an interagency task force called the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, which is head by the U.S. Department of State.
Other task force participants include NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Executive Office of the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Minerals Management Service and the Arctic Research Commission.
All data collected by the United States in support of defining its continental shelf have been released to the public.
Additional information on the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project is available on the State Department’s Web site.
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