Fairweather Set to Embark on Month-long Survey Mission Through Bering Straits and Arctic
This week, a 30-day survey mission is about to begin from Dutch Harbor and continue north and east for 1,500 miles to Alaska's border with Canada.
The survey mission will collect information to determine future charting and survey projects that were last measured by Captain Cook in 1778.
“Much of Alaska’s coastal area has never had full bottom surveys to measure water depths,” said Cmdr. James Crocker, commanding officer ofFairweather, and chief scientist of the party. “A tanker, carrying millions of gallons of oil, should not be asked to rely on measurements gathered in the 19th century. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what navigators have to do, in too many cases. NOAA is changing that.”
As Alaska is moving quickly into the 21 century, commercial shippers, tankers and passenger vessels that are taking advantage of lessening sea ice and increased resource development in the artic regions require nautical charts with more detailed information than what is currently available.
At the Office of Coast Survey Marine Chart Division, in June of 2011, a Plan to Support Sustainable Marine Transportation in Alaska and the Arctic was drawn up. That office has been the nation's chart-maker, and source of data and services for two centuries.
“We expect more increases of Arctic maritime traffic due to melting sea ice, which will require accurate and precise navigational data,” said Kathryn Ries, acting director of NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. “The sheer size of the task -- the coast length of 921 nautical miles is really 2,191 miles of low tidal shoreline once you figure in the bays and inlets --- requires that NOAA increase its charting efforts.”
A crucial part of the information that cartographers need before they can update harts for the region are accurate depth measurements that will be gathered from vessels like the Fairweather.
Much of the information on current charts are measurements that have been submitted by private vessels plying the waters of the Bering Sea and the Arctic. Much of the time, accurate location data is missing because of the lack of instruments to determine exact locations. Much of the gathered information is decades, and in some instances, centuries old.
The Fairweather, homeported in Ketchikan, is part of the fleet of ships and aircraft that NOAA operates and maintains for their Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. Some of the crew are officers of the NOAA Corps, while others aboard are civilians.
Alaska's Senator Murkowski said of the planned operations, “We are living in an age of sophisticated navigational software and significant investments in fisheries, resource development and tourism,” said Murkowski, co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus. “We need our men and women out on the waters to have access to comprehensive, accurate information – not data collected by Captain James Cook in 1778.”