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Journals 2008/2009

Steve Howard
Meadowdale Middle School, Lynnwood, Washington

"Seafloor Mapping in support of the Law of the Sea
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy
August 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008
Journal Index:
August 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
           19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25
           26 - 27 - 28 - 30 - 31
September 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

August 16, 2008
We Hit The Ice!

I began my "day" with the midnight sun for my watch. As I stepped outside for my chilly walk down to the science lab, I realized that we had hit our first patches of Arctic ice. Some call this type of ice "cheese ice", which are thin sheets of first-year ice (ice that has not built up in thickness over a number of years. As the day wore on and we press farther north, we encounter more and thicker ice, which by the end of the day covered most of the sea's surface. It is a beautiful and surreal landscape, with brilliant blue ice swirling through dark water and the reflected sunlight creating golden pools of light in the melting water pockets. I find myself staring at the sea endlessly these days, as each few minutes brings us to new shapes and structures in the ice passing by. The Healy plows through this ice easily, but makes a lot of noise and vibration as the ice hits the hull and either scrapes against the side or is pushed underneath the bottom to pop up on the other side. Depending on where you are on the ship, this can range from a dull bump to a deafening pounding. I'm beginning to get used to this background noise, and it's almost becoming reassuring. I wonder what it will be like trying to sleep to it.

Midnight sun on the Arctic ice

I wanted to spend some time describing the seafloor mapping mission which is the primary reason we are out here. It's very complicated, with scientific, legal, and geopolitical implications. So, I'm shooting for the barest of a summary here. In a nutshell, nations are given exclusive rights to resources up to 200 nautical miles from their shoreline based on United Nations charter agreements. However, if nations can prove that their continental shelf extends outward in a "natural prolongation," they can extend their sovereign rights over resources of the seafloor and subsurface beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. Essentially, we're talkin' oil here, folks. The United States and other nations with land in the Arctic Circle are all actively trying to understand the shapes of their continental slopes so they can identify these prolongations and extend their rights to these areas. That's where this project comes in. Using the Healy's multibeam echo sounder system, which bounces a swath of echo-sounder "pings" and "chirps" off the sea floor and back to the ship, Larry and his team of scientists are creating detailed 3-dimensional maps of previously unmapped areas of the Arctic seafloor to see where nations may extend out their continental shelf and claim rights to resources. Essentially they are using sound to see! In addition, this data can help scientists better understand climate and circulation models and fisheries habitat. As I watch these scientists go about their mapping, I feel as though I am witness to a very important piece of history. As the Arctic warms and human exploitation of the resources in the region increases, this data will be at the forefront of major geopolitical decisions.

Here is an example of one type of detailed seafloor map developed using multibeam echo-sounders like the one on the Healy.
This is the planned path of our expedition into the Arctic.

Larry Mayer, Chief Scientist of the mutibeam echo-sounder mission. Larry is the Director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and co- directorof the NOAA/UNH Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire ( ). From the first time he watched Jacques Cousteau as a boy, Larry says he was hooked on oceanography. He has studied and worked and a geologist and paleogeographer, probing the history of earth's climate, and for the last twenty years has become a world expert in seafloor mapping. He travels the world meeting with scientists, politicians, and government officials sharing his knowledge and findings. What he enjoys about his work is seeing the world and discovering things that no one has seen before. His advice to young people pursuing science as a career is to build a solid foundation in mathematics, physics and computer technology, since these skills will be increasingly necessary in the future. Larry has a very engaging and friendly nature, and helps the long hours on watch go by with his many stories and humorous anecdotes. I can't tell you enough, Larry, how much I appreciate you inviting me to join your team and travel to this remote and beautiful landscape.

Larry Mayer, Chief Scientist on the Healy expedition