As the waters of Alaska see increasing use due to thinning ice, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced plans to conduct Arctic charting operations from Unimark Pass in the Aleutian Islands through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea during 2015.
Working with the Coast Guard to collect hydrographic data, the organization is surveying more than 12,000 nautical miles of ocean along a four nautical mile wide corridor to update its navigational charts for the Arctic.
This data gathering effort will help the Coast Guard assess the safety of commercial shipping into the Chukchi Sea as part of a port access route study it is conducting. Comments are being accepted by the agency until June 3, 2015. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy has been accumulating multi-beam echo sounder data of water depths in its many travels through the region. The Office of Coast Survey has reviewed this information and has found it to be reliable for charting purposes.
NOAA Office of Coast Survey Director Rear Admiral Gerd Glang says, “Much of our charting data in this corridor is from surveys conducted a hundred years ago. So right now, we need to conduct reconnaissance of the seafloor in high traffic areas to make sure they are safe for navigation.”
NOAA vessels will not only be collecting depth data along the proposed shipping route, they will be watching for seamounts and other potential navigational hazards along the planned route. There are also visits planned for other areas on the west coast of Alaska, including Kotzebue Sound, Point Hope and Port Clarence.
Improved nautical charts will help mariners navigate the arctic waters of Alaska safely and will greatly improve the accuracy of these charts, some that are still based on data collected more than a hundred years ago.