According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), individual nations? sovereign rights extend to 200 nautical miles (n.mi.) (370 km) offshore or to a maritime boundary in an area called the continental shelf. These rights include jurisdiction over all resources in the water column and on and beneath the seabed. Article 76 of UNCLOS also establishes the criteria to determine areas beyond the 200 n.mi. (370 km) limit that could be defined as ?extended continental shelf,? where a nation could extend its sovereign rights over the seafloor and sub-seafloor (As used in UNCLOS, ?continental shelf? refers to a legally defined region of the sea floor rather than a morphological shallow-water area adjacent to continents commonly used by geologists and hydrographers.). This jurisdiction provided in Article 76 includes resources on and below the seafloor but not in the water column. The United States has been acquiring data to determine the outer limits of its extended continental shelf in the Arctic and has a vested interest in declaring and receiving international recognition of the reach of its extended continental shelf.
The U.S. collaborated with Canada in 2008 and 2009 on extended continental shelf studies in the Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Healy worked with the Canadian Coast Guard ship Louis S. St. Laurent to map the continental shelf beyond 200 n.mi. (370 km) in the Arctic. Each icebreaking vessel contributed different capabilities in order to collect data needed by both nations more efficiently in order to save money, avoid redundancy, and foster cooperation. Generally, the Healy collects bathymetric (sea-floor topography) data and the Louis S. St. Laurent collects seismic reflection profile data. The vessels work in concert when ice conditions are heavy, with one vessel breaking ice for the ship collecting data. The Canadian Environmental Assessments for these projects are available on line at http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/052/details-eng.cfm?pid=38185 (2008) and http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/052/details-eng.cfm?pid=46518 (2009).
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) are undertaking a similar partnership again for 2010 in a limited area of U.S. waters during the period between ~10 and 16 August. The survey vessels will then proceed to international or Canadian waters where surveying will proceed until ~3 September, when the two icebreakers will separate to conduct independent work. The survey area of the joint work will be bounded approximately by 145? to 158? W longitude and 71? to 84? N latitude in water depths ranging from ~2,000 to 4,000 m (fig. 1). Ice conditions are expected to range from open water to 10/10 ice cover. The Louis S. St. Laurent will join accompanying vessel Healy in or near the survey area around 10 August to begin the joint survey work.
As its energy source, the seismic system aboard Louis S. St. Laurent will employ a 3-airgun array consisting of three Sercel G-airguns. Two guns will have a discharge volume of 500 in3 and the third a discharge volume of 150 in3 for a total array discharge volume of 1,150 in3. The seismic survey will take place in water depths 2,000?4,000 m. This airgun array is identical to the system used in the 2008 and 2009 field programs by the Geological Survey of Canada.
The USGS requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issue an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to authorize the incidental, that is, not intentional, harassment of small numbers of cetaceans and seals should this occur during the seismic survey in U.S. waters. USGS is also consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding concerns about disturbance to walruses and polar bears. Through informal consultation with the Office of Protected Resources with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USGS proposes that no ESA-listed marine species?bowhead, fin, humpback or sperm whale?w
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Environmental Assessment for a Marine Geophysical Survey of Parts of the Arctic Ocean, August-September 2010
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
x, 111 p.; Appendices; Finding of No Significant Impact File