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US, Canada to map unexplored Arctic sea floor, USGS says

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 4 -- The US and Canada will jointly map the unexplored Arctic sea floor where the two countries may have sovereign rights over oil, gas, and other resources, the US Geological Survey announced.

The US Department of the Interior agency said both countries will use resulting data to establish the continental shelf's outer limits under criteria in the Law of the Sea Convention. The extended continental shelf, the sea floor, and subsoil beyond 200 nautical miles from shore that meet those criteria are of great scientific interest and could represent potential economic development, it noted.

The collaboration will use two ships, USGS said. It said that it will lead data collection from Sept. 6 through Oct. 1 on the US Coast Guard cutter Healy to map the sea floor. Canada's geological survey within that country's natural resources department will follow on the Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St. Laurent and study the subsea floor's geology.

"The two-ship experiment allows both the US and Canada to collect and share complementary data in areas where data acquisition is costly, logistically difficult, and sometimes dangerous. Both countries benefit through sharing of resources and data as well as increasing likelihood of success by utilizing two icebreaker ships in these remote areas of the Arctic Ocean," noted USGS scientist Deborah Hutchinson, who will sail aboard the Louis.

Jonathan Childs, another USGS scientist who will be chief aboard the Healy, said that effort will use an echo sound, which emits sound signals in the water, to map the sea floor using a multibeam bathymetry system. "Unlike conventional echo sounders, which measure the water depth at a point directly beneath the ship, the multibeam system collects a 'swath' of depth information about 3 km wide along the ship's patch, creating a three-dimensional view of the sea floor," he explained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded US participation in the US-Canadian mission and collaborated with the University of New Hampshire to collect bathymetric data in the Arctic Ocean from onboard the Healy from Aug. 14 through Sept. 5, USGS said.

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