NOAA’s quest to better understand the world’s seafloor continues, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has committed two of its ships, Fairweather and Rainier, to collect and update chart data in the Arctic. Along with the U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaker, Healy, which has been recording sounding data during previous arctic research missions, and a fourth, private research vessel, the goal for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is to explore the potential viability of a high-traffic route from Unimak Island, in the Aleutian chain, to the Chukchi Sea, separating Asia from North America at the far end of the Bering Strait.
“Much of our charting data in this corridor is from surveys conducted a hundred years ago,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “So right now, we need to conduct reconnaissance of the seafloor in high-traffic areas to make sure they are safe for navigation.”
The four ships will use multibeam sonar to survey seafloor depths over 3,200 feet apart and equally as wide. The end result will be a near total of 12,000 miles of data collected from the 4-mile-wide Bering Strait.
In addition to collecting depth soundings, the ships will also be seeking hazards to navigation, in the form of seamounts or other dangers. As a side mission, Rainier will be further investigating Point Hope, Alaska, to verify the existence of a shoal area discovered by NOAA’s cartographers after an analysis of satellite imagery.