NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009
Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 1, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 800 26’N
Longitude: 1370 16’W
Science and Technology Log
Why Are Two Icebreakers Traveling Together?
All of the countries that have a coastline on the Arctic Ocean are trying to collect data to determine where their extended continental shelf (ECS) ends. One of the types of data needed is called seismic data. Collecting this information involves towing a long (a kilometer or more) streamer behind the ship. It is difficult to do this well in ice-covered water. So, the Canadians and the Americans are collecting data together. One icebreaker leads and breaks a path for the second following with the seismic streamer being towed behind. For most of our trip together, the Healy has broken ice for the Louis S. St. Laurent. We are both collecting data – just different types with different instruments.
FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you name all the countries that have coastlines on the Arctic Ocean? Of which country is Greenland part?
Why Do We Care Where Our Extended Continental Shelf Is?
The oceans and ocean floors are rich with natural resources. Some countries obtain much of their wealth from mining the oceans, drilling for oil or gas in the oceans, or from fish or shellfish obtained from the oceans. Currently, a nation has the right to explore for and harvest all resources in the water and everything on or below the seafloor for 200 nautical miles beyond its shoreline. One nation can allow other nations to use its waters or charge oil companies for the right to drill in its seafloor and thus make money. But what if we could use resources beyond that 200-mile limit? That would add to a country’s wealth. If a country can show with scientific data that the continental shelf extends beyond those 200 miles they can extend their rights over:
1) The non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil (minerals, oil, gas)
2) The living resources that are attached to the seabed (clams, corals, scallops ) An extended continental shelf means a nation has rights to more natural resources.
FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at a map of the oceans. Can you find the continental shelf marked on the Atlantic coast of the United States? What types of resources can you think of that we get from the ocean and the seafloor?
Where Exactly Is the Healy Going?
Our trail looks random to the untrained eye but it does have a purpose. We have been helping the Louis get good measurements of the thickness of the sediments on the seafloor. You see there are certain features of the seafloor that help a nation identify its ECS. One is related to depth. Another is related to the thickness of the underlying sediments. Another is related to the place where the continental slope ends (the foot of the slope). We have been following a path that takes us to the 2500-meter contour (where the ocean is 2500 meters deep) and following a path to measure the thickness of the sediment in the Canada Basin. I was surprised to think that there was thick sediment on the seafloor in this area. But, the Arctic is a unique ocean because continents surround it. It is more like a bowl surrounded by land. As rivers have flowed into the Arctic over millions of years – layers and layers of sediment have covered the Canadian Basin.
FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at your maps again. Find rivers, bays, fjords, that flow into the Arctic Ocean. For More Information About The Extended Continental Shelf
The U.S and Canada have been sharing personnel as well as sharing a science mission. Coast Guard personnel and science party personnel have been traveling between the two ships via helicopter to share their expertise. As the Canadian visitors come through our science lab and eat meals with us – we have had plenty of time to discuss science and everyday life. There has also been a longer-term exchange of personnel. A scientist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been sailing on the Louis since they left Kugluktuk, Northwest Territories. Dr. Deborah Hutchinson is on the Louis to provide USGS input to scientific decisions made during the cruise.
My roommate, Erin Clark, is a Canadian Ice Services Specialist. Erin hails from Toronto, Ontario and is staying on the Healy to exchange expertise with the American ice analysts. It has been interesting getting to know Erin and hearing the story of her career path. She was one of those kids in school who just couldn’t sit still in a structured classroom environment. Erin is a visual learner – and often had a hard time proving to her professors that she understood the material as she worked on her degree in Geography. Where other students used multi-step equations, Erin used diagrams and often didn’t “show her work”. NOTE TO STUDENTS: Do you know how you learn best? What is your learning style?
Erin was lucky enough to have instructors that worked with her and now she is one of about 20 Marine Services Field Ice Observers in Canada. Luckily, she has found a career that offers lots of opportunities to move around. Some of her time is spent analyzing satellite photos of ice on a computer screen, some ice observing from a ship, and some ice observing on helicopter reconnaissance trips. She communicates what she observes about ice conditions to ships; helping them to navigate safely in ice-covered waters.
FOR MY STUDENTS: What kind of skills do you think an Ice Specialist would need to succeed in their career?