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NOAA vessel begins Arctic underwater mapping

Alaska Dispatch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today that the 231-foot-long vessel Fairweather departed Kodiak this morning on its way to the waters of Kotzebue Sound, above the Arctic Circle. The ship will be conducting undersea mapping of the region in order to update the underwater topography of the region, something not done in almost 150 years. Part of the ship's mission is in response to increased shipping traffic through Arctic regions as climate change leads to longer shipping windows due to reduced sea ice.

"The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading over time to a growth of vessel traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns,” said the commanding officer of the Fairweather, Capt. David Neander.

The mission also comes as the city of Kotzebue, 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, looks at improvements to its own infrastructure and continues studying the feasibility of a deepwater port in the area. The waters of Kotzebue Sound grow shallow while still miles away from shore, which necessitates shuttling cargo into the community, adding to the already-considerable cost of living in the town and surrounding region. 

From the press release:

The city of Kotzebue, located on the shores of Kotzebue Sound at the tip of Baldwin Peninsula, serves as a supply hub for eleven Arctic villages and cannot currently accommodate deep draft vessels. Those vessels must now anchor 15 miles offshore, and cargo is brought to shore by shallow draft barges. This summer’s survey will also address a request for bathymetry to support navigation and installation for an offshore lightering facility used for heating and fuel oil. An up-to-date NOAA chart, using data acquired from surveys with modern high-resolution sonar technology, can improve the efficiency – and safety – at this important location.

The bathymetry survey will provide an update on depths in Arctic seas, the first time since the 1800s -- when measuring the depth of the sea floor was done with a lead-weighted line -- that such a survey has been done. 

Read more, here