TerraSond, an Acteon Group Ltd. company was recently contracted to support NOAA: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration‘s effort to provide modern, accurate mapping data of the Bering Sea and Alaska’s North slope by completing a hydrographic survey using Saildrone Inc‘s wind-driven and solar-powered Unmanned Survey Vessels (USVs).
Exploration of the Northwest Passage, the Arctic sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific, began even before the Panama Canal was built. It was a treacherous journey—along the west coast of Greenland, weaving through Canada’s Arctic islands, and then southwest along Alaska’s North Slope and through the Bering Strait—and even in the summer, it was mostly blocked by impenetrable sea ice. Today, due to climate changes in the Arctic and a retreating ice cap, the Northwest Passage could become an economically viable shipping route, however, it remains very shallow and dangerous, and chart data is limited and antiquated.
This summer, four Saildrone unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) are sailing from San Francisco to the Chukchi Sea to perform a proof-of-concept acoustic single-beam bathymetry mission supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s effort to provide modern, accurate mapping data of the Bering Sea and Alaska’s North Slope.
The 2020 Arctic Mapping mission is the first step toward resolving major gaps in Arctic charts and Saildrone’s first reconnaissance survey to provide modern, accurate charting data, in collaboration with TerraSond on behalf of NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS).
The transit distance between Asia and the US West Coast and Europe via the Northwest Passage is estimated to be around 1,000 nautical miles shorter than through the Panama Canal. Many ships and their crews have perished in icy Arctic waters throughout the history of Northwest Passage exploration.