With Ice Diminishing in a Warming Climate, NOAA to Add Arctic Ocean Nautical Charts

Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Blog, Ports and Harbors | 0 comments

Ice and Water in Beaufort Sea -- NOAA photo. Just as the sequester is about to kick in, NOAA has announced that the agency will undertake a new effort to improve nautical charts in the Arctic Ocean.  In its website announcement Tuesday, NOAA called it “a major effort to improve inadequate chart coverage for Arctic areas experiencing increasing vessel traffic due to ice diminishment.”

(The NOAA announcement does not use the terms “climate change” or “global warming.” We assume that they must have their reasons, so we may start using the term “ice diminishment” from now on.)

“As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, NOAA Coast Survey director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns about adequate charts, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners.”

“Given the lack of emergency response infrastructure in remote Arctic waters, nautical charts are even more important to protect lives and fragile coastal areas,” Glang said.

Arctic Chart PlanBecause the “ice diminishment” is occurring so rapidly, the charting is needed sooner rather than later.  Some estimates for “ice diminishment” indicate that much of the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in summers by 2030. With ice no longer an obstacle for substantial portions of the year, passage through the northern ocean may be an increasingly attractive trade route. However, many of Alaska’s coastal waters have not had comprehensive depth surveys, and NOAA points out that some waters have not had any detailed measurements since Captain Cook explored the region in the late 1700s.

“Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” said Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s marine chart division. “We don’t have decades to get it done. Ice diminishment is here now.”

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