U.S., Canada Embark on Third Joint Arctic Extended Continental Shelf Survey Mission

Posted by Maggie Hayes
August 6, 2010
Canadian and U.S. Icebreakers Louis and Healy

About the Author: Maggie Hayes is Chair of the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task Force. She is with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) in the Office of Oceans, Fisheries and Polar Affairs.

On August 4, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Louis S. St-Laurent joined the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy on the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. U.S. and Canadian scientists aboard the two vessels are working together to determine the limits of the “extended continental shelf.” I encourage you to follow this exciting joint effort here, where you can view ship logs and photos from the USCGC Healy.

Under international law, every coastal country has a continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles (nm) from its shoreline, or to a maritime boundary with another coastal country. However, the continental shelf of a coastal country may extend beyond 200 nm (an “extended continental shelf”) if it meets certain criteria outlined in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. By determining the outer limits of the continental shelf, countries position themselves to conserve, manage, and use the resources on and under the sea floor.

Working together saves both the United States and Canada money and time. And with each country's ship directing its efforts toward a particular aspect of data collection, each country can obtain more data than either could alone. This is the third year that the United States and Canada have cooperated as Arctic neighbors to collect data, with great success.

The USCGC Healy is collecting information about the depth and shape of the seafloor, and the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is collecting information about the thickness and characteristics of sediment layers down to several kilometers beneath the seafloor. As in past years, ice extent and characteristics are being recorded, and, as conditions permit, open-ocean and ice buoys will be deployed to track water currents and ice movement. This year we will also be collecting data within 200 nm from the coast, in an area in which the United States and Canada have not yet agreed to a maritime boundary.

Because we do not often have the opportunity to conduct research in the Arctic, scientists are taking advantage of this opportunity to collect information about climate change. They are examining the effects of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in Arctic waters by collecting and analyzing seawater samples and studying ocean acidification. In addition, trained observers of marine mammals are aboard, recording mammal sightings in areas in which observations are rarely made, and alerting the ship's officers when a mammal is close enough that operations should be adjusted to avoid disturbing it.

Much of the data collected over the past two years told us new geological, climate, and scientific stories and provided an invaluable basis for further research. We are therefore all excited about potential scientific findings from this latest collaboration.



North Carolina, USA
August 9, 2010

A.M.L. in North Carolina writes:

Point of style: shouldn't it be USCGC Healy rather than USCG Healy? "http://www.uscg.mil/pacarea/cgcHealy/"DipNote Bloggers write:

@ A.M.L. in North Carolina -- Thanks for the catch! We've made the correction.


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