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February 12th, 2008
UNH-NOAA Ocean Mapping Expedition Yields New Insights into Arctic Depths

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PR – New Arctic sea floor data
released today by the University of New Hampshire and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that the foot of the
continental slope off Alaska is more than 100 nautical miles farther
from the U.S. coast than previously assumed.

The data, gathered
during a recent mapping expedition to the Chukchi Cap some 600 nautical
miles north of Alaska, could support U.S. rights to natural resources
of the sea floor beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast.

“We
found evidence that the foot of the slope was much farther out than we
thought,” said Larry Mayer, expedition chief scientist and co-director
of the Joint Hydrographic Center at UNH. “That was the big discovery.”

Coastal
nations have sovereign rights over the natural resources of their
continental shelf, generally recognized to extend 200 nautical miles
out from the coast. The Law of the Sea Convention, now under
consideration in the U.S. Senate, provides nations an internationally
recognized basis to extend their sea floor resource rights beyond the
foot of the continental slope if they meet certain geological criteria
backed up by scientific data.

The Bush administration supports approval of the convention.

The
Arctic mapping expedition, conducted between Aug. 17 and Sept. 15, 2007
aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, employed sophisticated echo
sounders to survey this relatively unexplored region, providing much
finer-grained data and images than existed previously. The data are
available at http://www.ccom.unh.edu.

“We
now have a better geologic picture of what’s happening in that area of
the Arctic,” said NOAA Office of Coast Survey researcher Andy
Armstrong, co-chief scientist on the expedition and NOAA co-director of
the Joint Hydrographic Center. “These are valuable data for NOAA and
the United States, and I’m pleased that we’re making them available for
anyone to use.”

Mapping more than 5,400 linear nautical miles,
the research team also found scours on the Chukchi Cap some 1,300 feet
below the surface, likely caused by the scraping of an ice sheet on the
sea floor, and deep pockmarks of unknown origin at a depth of 1,600
feet.

“The sea floor is full of mysteries, and beneath the
Arctic ice cap those mysteries are even harder to reveal,” said Mayer.
“The kind of full-coverage, high-resolution mapping we do provides
critical insight for meeting the criteria of the Law of the Sea
Convention as well as the geologic history of the region.”

Prior
to this work, the only seafloor mapping data available in the
ice-covered Arctic came mostly from ice islands and helicopters. These
sparse individual measurements produced low-resolution maps compared to
the Joint Hydrographic Center’s mapping.

Other mapping
expeditions led by the Joint Hydrographic Center, a NOAA-UNH
partnership, have explored the Bering Sea (2003), the Atlantic coast of
the U.S. (2004 and 2005), the Gulf of Alaska (2005), Mariana Islands
(2006 and 2007), and the Gulf of Mexico (2007).

“Understanding
the bathymetry and geological history of the Arctic is an important
part of understanding global climate change,” said Mayer. “The Arctic
acts as a global spigot in controlling the flow of deep ocean currents
that distribute the Earth’s heat and control climate. The Arctic is the
canary in the coal mine.”

###

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety
through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related
events and information service delivery for transportation, and by
providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine
resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of
Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than
70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring
network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and
protects.

On the Web:

NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov

Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire: http://www.ccom-jhc.unh.edu

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