U.S. Geological Survey researchers are among an international group of scientists setting sail Aug. 25 on a voyage to explore the Arctic. This will be a five-week expedition aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.
The primary purpose of this mission is to map the Arctic seafloor and collect data to help define the outer limits of the U.S. continental shelf. There will be other projects taking place simultaneously on Healy, and this includes collecting water and ice samples to study ocean acidification in the Arctic.
Arctic Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) increases in the atmosphere and is absorbed by the ocean. Acidification will continue to rise because CO2 levels are projected to increase. Acidification can disturb the balance of marine life in the world’s oceans, and consequently affect people and animals that rely on those food resources.
The Arctic Ocean is one of the most vulnerable areas for acidification, yet it is one of the least explored oceans in the world. The USGS is leading a project to study ocean acidification in the Arctic and what this means for the survival of marine and terrestrial organisms. This is the third consecutive year of research.
Mapping the Seafloor
The primary mission taking place on Healy is a collaborative effort to map the seafloor and help define the outer limits of the U.S. continental shelf in the Arctic.
Each coastal nation may exercise sovereign rights over its continental shelf’s natural resources. These rights include control over minerals, petroleum and sedentary organisms such as clams, crabs and coral.
International law affords every coastal nation rights in its continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles from shore. If certain physical criteria are met, a nation is entitled to the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, an area referred to as the “extended continental shelf” or ECS.
The United States is now collecting data to see if it meets those criteria to establish the limits for an ECS off the Alaska coast in the Arctic Ocean.
In addition to the Arctic, the United States is working to define its ECS off many of its other shores, including off the Atlantic coast and Northern Mariana Islands, and in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Mexico. View a map online.
This is the ninth ECS-related mission aboard Healy, and will likely be the last mission addressing U.S. ECS extent in the Arctic, provided the weather and equipment cooperate in the often uncertain and challenging Arctic environment.