About the author: Brian Van Pay is a Maritime Geographer with the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. He is currently on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy on the Arctic Ocean.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy rendezvoused with the Canadian icebreaker, Louis S. St. Laurent (Louis), last week on Tuesday, September 9th. Soon after, the Canadian Coast Guard Captain and Chief Scientist boarded their helicopter and landed on the Healy for a planning meeting with their U.S. counterparts. The meeting concluded, the helicopter returned, and around midnight on the bridge of the Healy that night I heard, "Healy, [this is] Louis, deploying gear…maintaining 4 knots…" And thus began this mission, which took just over a year of planning.
The cooperative effort was initiated in July of 2007. What followed was a series of meetings in Boston, Halifax, and Seattle among the respective scientific agencies and Coast Guards. Together, this group hammered out logistics, communication, safety, and of course data collection. The United States and Canada have long collaborated on a variety of scientific endeavors in the Arctic, but the last time we used our icebreakers in a cooperative effort was in August 1994 on a mission to the North Pole.
Why cooperate? Both countries have a mutual interest in defining the Arctic continental shelf, so it made more sense to collaborate on data collection than to work separately. Both countries can provide data the other needs saving each other millions of dollars. More specifically, the United States needs seismic reflection data -- a very tricky endeavor in the Arctic -- and Canada has worked out the bugs and is successfully collecting it from the Louis. Likewise, Canada prefers to have the multibeam bathymetric data that can be collected from Healy (the Louis has a singlebeam echo sounder). Canada also needs the Healy to clear a path for the seismic data collection work, especially in the heavy ice conditions we have encountered thus far. A chunk of ice ramming the scientific equipment off the stern of the Louis is not conducive to good data collection! In some areas, the bathymetric data are more important, so the Louis has taken the lead to clear the ice, while the Healy follows collecting better soundings of the seafloor. Finally, Arctic experts comprise a surprisingly small group of people, many of whom have worked together for many years, so utilizing one another's expertise is typical in this area of the world.
What about the fact that the United States and Canada have yet to agree on a maritime boundary in the Arctic Ocean? There has not been an agreed-upon maritime boundary since the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, but this is not particularly unusual since half of the maritime boundaries across the globe have yet to be determined. Also keep in mind that we need to collect the data first to determine the extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. Determining a maritime boundary comes second, and our two countries will work that out on a bilateral basis at an appropriate time in the future.
Interested in life on board the Healy? Then check back soon for my next entry on DipNote.
Editor's Note: Read Brian's previous entry about the data being collected by the Healy.