Alaska’s Arctic waters to be mapped for first time since Captain Cook

Satellite image of the Bering Strait. Photo: NASA. Alaska Dispatch. On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ship Fairweather embarked on a 30-day survey of Alaska coastline that has not been charted since the days of Captain James Cook in 1778.

The mission began in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and heads north through the Bering Strait, north of Barrow and to the Canadian border, charting 1,726 miles on the coastal corridor.

The Fairweather will take depth measurements, among other data, so that NOAA cartographers can update their charts.

In the Arctic, an increase in melting sea ice is expected to prompt more maritime traffic in coming years, according to Kathryn Ries, acting director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. More ships will require precise navigational data. This is where the Fairweather comes in.

James Crocker, commanding officer of the Fairweather, and chief scientist of the party said, “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.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised the mission as a “crucial step” for Alaska nautical routes. “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.”

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