Survey of arctic routes seen as critical

July 22, 2010 at 7:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- A warming arctic climate could open up faster and more efficient sea travel routes but bring a risk of maritime "traffic jams," experts say.

With the arctic sea ice at its lowest level in thousands of years, many shippers are looking to the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska as a new route, but more ships traversing northern passageways could choke oceangoing traffic, reported Thursday.

"As arctic sea ice recedes, economic activity in the region is going to expand dramatically," said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent a survey ship to the region to detect navigational dangers in critical arctic waters that have not been charted for more than 50 years.

"We have seen a substantial increase in activity in the region, and ships are operating with woefully outdated charts," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said.

Referring to the NOAA survey, Murkowski said, "While this is a good start, we still need more resources to adequately map this region."

NOAA's Office of Coast Survey has identified 38,000 square nautical miles as survey priorities but says mapping the prioritized areas of the arctic seafloor could take more than 25 years.

"Today we have better maps of the moon than of our own oceans," Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the NOAA survey ship, said.

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