Arctic Ocean Exploration and Deep Sea Research
Ocean Exploration 2020: The Arctic as a Priority
During the Ocean Exploration 2020 National Forum, held in July 2013 at the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Arctic was identified as an important exploration priority.
As Marcia McNutt conveyed in a recent editorial in Science Magazine, "the Arctic is a region likely to experience some of the most extreme climate change impacts. An ice-free ocean could affect weather patterns, sea conditions, and ecosystem dynamics and invite increases in shipping, tourism, energy extraction, and mining. Good decisions by Arctic nations on Arctic stewardship, emergency preparedness, economic development, and climate change adaptation will need to be informed by good science. Exploration of this frontier needs to happen now to provide a useful informational baseline for future decisions."
The Arctic Ocean is one of the most unexplored ocean areas on the planet – and is undergoing rapid environmental change. Before such change in the Arctic was garnering regular media headlines, OER-sponsored scientists (starting in 2001) were collecting baseline data about marine life in sea ice, in the water column, and on the sea floor, as well as geological and morphological seafloor data in the ice-covered Arctic.
Scientific communities now generally agree that the Arctic is in need of additional measurements and observations to accurately monitor and predict future changes.
NOAA envisions an Arctic where decisions and actions related to conservation, management, and use are based on sound science and support healthy, productive, and resilient communities and ecosystems.
OER's aim is to continue to improve baseline biological, chemical, and geophysical observations and understanding of Arctic ecosystems and ecosystem processes through strategically planned and leveraged efforts, thereby enhancing NOAA's and the Nation’s certainty in assessing and predicting impacts caused by a changing Arctic.
An ice diver takes a picture of the view looking up at the surface through their dive entry hole with an underwater camera. Image courtesy of The Hidden Ocean, Arctic 2005 Exploration, NOAA-OE.
- OER partnered with Canada, Japan and China in 2002 to conduct biodiversity assessments of the high-Arctic's Canada Basin from the sea ice down to the sea floor. In 2005, an international team of scientists from the U.S., Canada, China, and Russia sailed on the icebreaker USCGC Healy to continue exploring the Arctic Canada Basin, one of the deepest parts of the Arctic Ocean. With divers, photographic platforms, a remotely operated vehicle, ice corers, nets and trawls, scientists studied the abundance and diversity of life from sea-ice surface to thousands of meters deep on the seafloor. Scientists recorded an abundance and diversity of marine life, as well as physical and geochemical properties that will serve as benchmark data to measure variations in the planet’s fastest changing ocean area.
- OER conducted the first U.S. Arctic Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) related mapping expedition in 2003, in conjunction with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and the University of New Hampshire.
- Since 2004, OER has regularly co-sponsored the Russian-American Long-Term Census of the Arctic (RUSALCA) expedition with the NOAA Arctic Research Office that involves more than 40 international, interdisciplinary scientists exploring the Arctic's deep Canada Basin and other areas, to monitor the flux of fresh and salt water and to build an inventory re: the distribution and migration patterns of marine life in a key area for study of global climate change. Notable on one expedition was the setting of one American and one Russian mooring buoy on the Russian side of the narrow and politically sensitive Bering Strait.
- In 2005, an international team of scientists from the U.S., Canada, China and Russia sailed on the icebreaker USCGC Healy to explore the Arctic Canada Basin, one of the deepest parts of the Arctic Ocean. With divers, photographic platforms, a remotely operated vehicle, ice corers, nets and trawls, scientists studied the abundance and diversity of life from sea-ice surface to thousands of meters deep on the seafloor.
- OER supported four international ECS Arctic mapping expeditions between 2008 and 2011, involving the icebreakers U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent. In 2012, the ninth cruise aboard the Healy in support of the U.S. ECS Project occurred. (See the ECS section of this website for more details.)
- OER continues to engage USCG, NSF, USGS, BOEMRE, and Canada to pursue Arctic mapping and Arctic biodiversity and census efforts.
OER will exercise persistence in its efforts to increase understanding of the Arctic through charting of the Arctic region and exploration of science frontiers. We will continue to engage our federal and local partners, academia, non-governmental organizations, international entities and the private sector (a) to promote cooperation, leverage and sharing of data, observational platforms, and intellectual resources and (b) to facilitate more comprehensive attainment of NOAA’s Arctic science and ecosystem-based management goals (pdf, 1.2 Mb) and the National Arctic priorities (pdf, 479 kb).