Tag Archives: UN Convention on Law of the Sea

Joint U.S. – Canada cruise probes maritime borders in Arctic Ocean

The Healy and the St-Laurent work side-by-side in this USGS photo from 2009. Click on the picture for a better view of the ship's decks.

Earlier this month, Barrow, Alaska-based CPS and UMIAQ staff helped some 35 researchers, media members, NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, Coast Guard (USCG), Navy, and other federal-agency personnel, as they embarked the USCG Cutter Healy for the fourth annual Extended Continental Shelf Survey. A joint effort between the US and Canada, the survey focuses on mapping the sea floor off the coasts of Alaska and Canada. Data collected during these cruises may help policy makers from each country verify where they have natural resource rights in the Canada Basin under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which spells out how countries define their marine boundaries. (For more on the UNCLOS, visit http://www.flipseekllc.com/mmsextendshelf.html)

As the northernmost settlement in Alaska, Barrow seems a good place to set sail for a cruise in the Arctic Ocean. Since the small, remote village lacks a deep-water port —and has no roads in and out of town for that matter—embarking a large vessel here presents some logistical challenges which were overcome with advance planning and much coordination. Passengers and cargo arrived by air on 13 August, and the Healy anchored off coast two days later, right on schedule. Everyone assembled in the North Slope Bureau’s large search-and-rescue helicopter hanger for pre-flight activities before transferring to the ship. With rare, fair weather in Barrow, cruise participants flew to the Healy and the cruise got under way on 16 August.

Chief scientist Larry Mayer weighs his bag prior to flying to the Healy.

 

Wearing an orange "mustang suit" for protection against the elements, this researcher prepares to approach the helicopter that will ferry him to the USCGC Healy. Photos: Faustine Bernadac unless otherwise noted.

“The transfer could not have been this successful without the North Slope Bureau Search and Rescue allowing us to stage out of their helicopter hanger,” wrote CPS Barrow staffer Faustine Bernadac who coordinated CPS/UMIAQ support, “So I personally would like to thank them again for their great help.”

We’ve heard that the cruise is going well. The first few days, the Healy worked alone off the coast of Barrow, mapping an area called the Barrow Margin. According to a post by Capt. Andy Armstrong of the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center (CCOM), weather did impact some of the measurements—but in unexpected ways. Calm seas and blue skies combined to create two distinct water layers—warm, fresher water lying atop the colder, saltier water below, affecting the sonar signal. Experts had to correct the data for this distortion. A day or so later,
things got back to polar-normal when wind-tossed seas stirred the waters again. (Visit the CCOM website to keep up with Armstrong’s reports from the Healy.)

This work completed, the Healy steamed toward a northern rendezvous point to meet the Canadian Coast Guard’s St-Laurent, mapping enroute. The St-Laurent pulled alongside the Healy as planned on 23 August, and, after a day of science and planning meetings, the international team set out to begin studying the main aim of the cruise, a line stretching from the Chukchi Cap north to the Lomonosov Ridge (see the cruise track, below). Personnel aboard the two vessels will work together for about a month
before parting ways around 23 September. The Healy will break ice for the St-Laurent as needed, while collecting ocean-bottom (or bathymetric) data, primarily using a multi-beam echo sounder. The St. Laurent will conduct seismic profiles to establish sub-bottom characteristics.

In addition to the Extended Continental Shelf survey, USGS and University of Florida scientists aboard the Healy are collecting water samples for a study of Arctic Ocean acidification.  The team is also updating a website. Follow along—and submit questions, if you like—at http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/ocean-acidification/arcticcruise2011/ –Kip Rithner

Extended Continental Shelf Project Nears End

View from the U.S.C.G. Cutter Healy on Sept. 3, 2010. The image was taken from a web camera. To see more images, click the photo.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy should be in port today, Labor Day (September 6), after about five weeks cruising the Arctic Ocean with the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St- Laurent to map areas of the seafloor and to image the underlying sediment layers. The expedition, known as the Extended Continental Shelf Project, is collecting data that will be used to designate sovereign rights to the underwater region.

According to a blog post from the Cutter Healy, the ship has slowly been working its way north mapping the sea floor. The ice, which had been pretty light, was thickening as the ship neared the North Pole, which, as of Aug. 24 (the last date where there was an update), was about 600 miles away.

As of Aug. 24, the ship was about 600 miles south of the North Pole. Photo courtesy U.S. Geologic Survey

The Cutter Healy is escorting the Canadian Louis and conducting flight operations almost daily with the Louis’ helicopter. Most days, the chopper departs from the Louis, stops by the Cutter Healy to pick up some ice observers, and flies in front of the two ships to survey ice conditions that await. Other days, the helo just flies between the two ships, taking members of each crew to the other ship for an exchange day.

A helicopter provides transport between the Canadian and American ships. Photo courtesy U.S.G.S.

The survey will enrich the scientific data set of the area and could have greater implications for other endeavors. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic may hold 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil; this represents 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil.

Under international law, as reflected in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal country has a continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles (nm) from its coastal baselines, or to a maritime boundary with another coastal country. However, the continental shelf of a coastal country extends beyond 200 nm (the “extended continental shelf”) if it meets criteria outlined in Article 76 of the Convention. (Note that this legal definition of “continental shelf” is different from that traditionally used by marine geologists.) Knowing where these limits lie is important because coastal states have sovereign rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of exploring and exploiting its natural resources—including those resources on the seabed (such as deep-water coral communities or mineral crusts and nodules) and beneath the seabed (such as oil and gas).

Stay tuned for an update of the expedition once the two ships return to port and complete the 2010 expedition.  —Rachel Walker

C(art)ography

By Marcy Davis

Adriane Colburn's "Who’s on Top? Arctic Ice: 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2007 and East/West Lines, 2008." Paper, Aluminum, wood, gouache, watercolor, latex paint, string, ink and graphite. For more views and the artist's notes on this installation, click on the picture. All photos courtesy Adriane Colburn

Adriane Colburn works all the time. By day she’s a technician at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center. By night, she’s a renegade sculptor, pushing the boundaries of her favorite medium – paper. Colburn has long been inspired by the human impulse to visualize the world through cartography, by the act of communicating data and information through maps in order to better understand environment and processes. Maps led her to merge creative pursuits with science.

“My artistic motivation is that my subject must be intellectually challenging – the result of research. Science and politics and art are all related,” says Colburn, a Vermont native who has lived in San Francisco since 1990.

While surfing the Web one day, Colburn happened upon the home page for the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM) Joint Hydrographic Center where she read about the Law of the Sea Mapping Program, an intensive, multiyear partnership between UNH, NOAA, the NSF and others, aimed at mapping the seafloor to support U.S. claims to the extended continental shelf. The arctic seafloor maps immediately caught Colburn’s attention.

“I already had a strong interest in the Arctic and climate change. I did a project using sea ice extent maps, but they weren’t exactly what I was looking for. When I came across the CCOM Law of the Sea bathymetry maps, I became interested in the ways mapping the sea floor is pivotal in the Arctic — the role of these maps in geopolitics, natural resource exploration, and unexplored frontier,” Colburn explains. “The maps are simple and uncomplicated in their own right, but also rich and complicated in their links to highly charged topics.”

"For the Deep, Phase I," 2008, Inkjet prints, aluminum and paper, 12'x14'

After reading about a 2007 arctic cruise led by Larry Mayer (UNH) and Andy Armstrong (NOAA), Colburn cold-called CCOM to find out more. The call led to a visit and the visit led to her participation in a September, 2008, arctic cruise aboard the USCGC Healy. While on board, Colburn worked as a watchstander, monitoring computers used for sonar data collection during an eight-hour shift.

Watchstanders monitor a fleet of computers taking data on the sea floor.

“The thing I was really interested in was collecting the data – the interruptions and inaccuracies. The flaws in the process are fascinating. As a non-scientist I always assumed that data collection was inherently accurate, but I became aware of the subjectivity, of the personal decisions that go into it, and how the arctic seascape determines what you can do,” she says.

The rest of Colburn’s time she dedicated to photography, gathering audio and video footage, journaling, and talking with at-sea colleagues, an eclectic mix of scientists, graduate students, technicians, Coast Guardsmen (and women), a lawyer, and a member of the U.S. State Department. Colburn felt that she was “having this really rare experience most people never get to have and that the science was really interesting. I felt like I had this responsibility to share it rather than be narcissistic.”

Yo, Adriane! The artist having some fun aboard the Healy.

Back home in San Francisco, Colburn spent six months working up pieces for an exhibition at the Kala Art Institute entitled For the Deep, which showcased her arctic experience through a series of large, colorful installation pieces made of cut paper – arctic bathymetry maps. Round photos of the arctic landscape reminiscent of portholes dot the work. Colburn encouraged viewers to interact with her sculptures by looking into telescope-like vessels, rewarding them with video clips of the open ocean and of the Healy breaking ice.

"For the Deep, Phase II." The telescope-like viewer (up and to the right of middle) shows videos of the Healy breaking ice.

“What I tend to do in my artwork is decontextualize. I present the data without the scientific context. It is an abstraction. I thought a lot about how people understand places and about what comes back to the population from a far-off exploration,” says Colburn. “We try to understand places remotely so I intentionally forced distance between the person and the place. But mapping is also very interactive in our digital world. I wanted to include that element as well without having my work be totally immersive.”

Reactions to Colburn’s work are what she calls “multi-tiered”: what people get out of her art is what they bring to it. And whether that is something technical, scientific, or purely aesthetic doesn’t matter to her. She admits that her own sense of beauty has changed dramatically as a result of experiencing life at sea. She says “the Arctic has a specific light. It’s like being on another planet. You can’t really know that from pictures and words. It’s a transient landscape – one in which you can get a foothold because the ice is solid. But it’s also constantly shifting and changing and very dynamic.”

Colburn still works with scientists. She’s moved her attention to warmer climes but still focuses on climate change, measuring carbon in the Amazon with researchers at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. Colburn also had the opportunity to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. And she says she’s “trying to get back to the Arctic at least one more time,” if you happen to know anyone who’s looking to fill out a field team.

Adriane Colburn’s recent work is currently on display in an exhibition entitled Earth:  Art of a Changing World, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, December 3, 2009, to January 31, 2010.

Breaking the Ice

By Marcy Davis
The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent (front) and the US Coast Guard vessel Healy (back). Photo: Natural Resources Canada

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent (front) and the US Coast Guard vessel Healy (back). Photo: Natural Resources Canada

Ice-breaking ships from Canada and the United States last week began a cruise to probe the Arctic Ocean in the continuation of a multi-year mission to survey—and possibly extend—each country’s maritime boundaries. The ships departed from Barrow, Alaska, and from Kugluktuk, Nunavut (northern Canada), and are collecting data to build highly detailed three-dimensional maps of the sea floor that may be used to revise maritime boundaries.

The shaded area on this map illustrates where the U.S. is considering collecting and analyzing data and does not represent the official U.S. Government position on where it has extended continental shelf. This map is without prejudice to boundary depictions and future negotiations. Credit: continentalshelf.gov

The shaded area on this map illustrates where the U.S. is considering collecting and analyzing data. It does not represent the official U.S. Government position on where it has extended continental shelf--or any other official position. It is for informational purposes only. Credit: continentalshelf.gov

Dr. Larry Mayer of University of New Hampshire, who is also the co-director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, is the chief scientist aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. His team will map the seafloor using a sophisticated instrument called a multibeam sonar. From the hull of the ship, the sonar emits over one hundred narrowly focused beams of sound to create a swath that travels outward from the ship. Receivers ‘listen’ for the echo of the sound waves as they bounce off the seafloor and reflect back to the ship. Then computers calculate the depth to the seafloor and create a map of the sea floor topography.

The US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy cuts through one of the least known areas of the world--the Arctic. Source: NOAA

The US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy cuts through one of the least known areas of the world--the Arctic. Source: NOAA

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurent will collect seismic data. Dr. David Mosher of the Geologic Survey of Canada will be the Canadian chief scientist.

The work is part of the Extended Continental Shelf Project, a joint effort to probe the Chukchi Borderland, an underwater promontory which extends north of Barrow, Alaska, into the Artic Ocean to near 80°N. The expedition aims to map the farthest reaches of the North American continent and determine the edge of the continental shelf, information that will be used as the countries ready their claims to extend their maritime boundaries past the current 200 nautical miles offshore mark, as allowed by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. It is here that the U.S. stands to gain the most territory along with whatever natural resources it holds.

A country may use either constraint line to define the outer limits of its continental shelf: either 350 nautical miles seaward of the baseline, or 100 nautical miles seaward of the 2,500-meter depth contour (isobath).

A country may use either constraint line to define the outer limits of its continental shelf: either 350 nautical miles seaward of the baseline, or 100 nautical miles seaward of the 2,500-meter depth contour (isobath).

Of particular interest to the U.S. claim is the 2,500 meter isobath, the depth upon which many of the mathematical limits and formulae defined in the treaty rely. Mayer’s team also looks for a feature called ‘the foot of the slope,’ a major change in the shape of the sea floor which, according to the treaty, may mark the limit of the U.S. extended continental shelf.  He and his colleagues have mapped more than a million square kilometers of seafloor since 2003.

An aerial view of the Chukchi Borderland from the north, with tracks from 2003, 2004 and 2007 mapping expeditions.

An aerial view of the Chukchi Borderland from the north, with tracks from 2003, 2004 and 2007 mapping expeditions.

Many countries, including the U.S., will gain territory, although data analysis could take years. Once the United States senate officially accedes to the treaty, the U.S. will have ten years in which to turn over their data and formal claim to the U.N. Meanwhile, the Law of the Sea treaty protects the sea floor and underlying resources under stringent environmental laws.

Armchair sailors can monitor the cruise via several online sources, though transmission limitations in the Arctic Ocean may impact the number/frequency/size of these efforts.