Washington, Feb 12 : New Arctic sea floor data has suggested that the foot of the continental slope off Alaska is more than 100 nautical miles farther from the U.S. coast than previously assumed.
Released by the University of New Hampshire and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this data was gathered during a recent mapping expedition to the Chukchi Cap some 600 nautical miles north of Alaska.
"We found evidence that the foot of the slope was much farther out than we thought," said Larry Mayer, expedition chief scientist and co-director of the Joint Hydrographic Center at UNH. "That was the big discovery," he added.
Coastal nations have sovereign rights over the natural resources of their continental shelf, generally recognized to extend 200 nautical miles out from the coast.
The Law of the Sea Convention, now under consideration in the U.S. Senate, provides nations an internationally recognized basis to extend their sea floor resource rights beyond the foot of the continental slope if they meet certain geological criteria backed up by scientific data.
Now, this new data holds significance as it could support U.S. rights to natural resources of the sea floor beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast.
"We now have a better geologic picture of what's happening in that area of the Arctic," said NOAA Office of Coast Survey researcher Andy Armstrong, co-chief scientist on the expedition and NOAA co-director of the Joint Hydrographic Center.
"These are valuable data for NOAA and the United States, and I'm pleased that we're making them available for anyone to use," he added.
Mapping more than 5,400 linear nautical miles, the research team also found scours on the Chukchi Cap some 1,300 feet below the surface, likely caused by the scraping of an ice sheet on the sea floor, and deep pockmarks of unknown origin at a depth of 1,600 feet.
"The sea floor is full of mysteries, and beneath the Arctic ice cap those mysteries are even harder to reveal," said Mayer.
"The kind of full-coverage, high-resolution mapping we do provides critical insight for meeting the criteria of the Law of the Sea Convention as well as the geologic history of the region," he added.