Washington — An interactive online mapping tool used by emergency responders during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been expanded to include the Arctic, and will help address numerous challenges in the Arctic posed by increasing ship traffic and proposed energy development, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.
NOAA and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) called the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) an important step forward for the Arctic region.
“I know firsthand how critical it is for emergency responders to have the common operating picture ERMA provides,” said BSEE director James A. Watson. “With the potential for oil and natural gas development, as well as increased shipping activity offshore Alaska, it is essential that responders have access to real-time information that provides full situational awareness. That’s why I’m so pleased that BSEE was able to partner with NOAA to help complete this invaluable application.”
Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, also cited the benefits to emergency responders of having ERMA coverage of the Arctic. “This scientific tool could provide essential information in responding to potential oil spills and pollution releases in the Arctic,” she said.
According to NOAA, ERMA brings together all of the available information needed for an effective emergency response in the Arctic. In an emergency situation, ERMA is equipped with near-real-time oceanographic observations and weather data from NOAA, and critical environmental, commercial and industrial data information from BSEE as well as numerous other federal and state response agencies.
Responders can customize the tool with environmental, logistical and operational data such as fishery closure areas, resources-at-risk maps and mariner notices, depending on the need.
SURVEY MISSION IN ARCTIC
NOAA also has begun a direct survey of a critical coastal corridor in the Arctic as part of an ongoing project to update navigational charts for the area.
NOAA Ship Fairweather is beginning a 30-day survey mission in the Arctic. It is scheduled to check a sparsely measured 1,500-nautical-mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, north through the Bering Strait and east to the Canadian border.
The mission will collect information needed to determine NOAA’s future charting survey projects in the Arctic and will cover sea lanes that were last measured by Captain James Cook in 1778.
“Much of Alaska’s coastal area has never had full bottom surveys to measure water depths,” said Commander James Crocker, commanding officer of the Fairweather and chief scientist of the party. “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.”
Many of today’s Alaskan coastal nautical charts, created by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, use sporadic depth readings reported by private vessels, some decades or centuries old. Those vessels lacked the ability to report their exact positions to enable them to gather data accurate enough to ensure quality measurements.
NOAA has made it a priority to update the nautical charts needed by commercial shippers, tankers, passenger vessels and fishing fleets transiting the Alaskan coastline in ever-greater numbers. In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to update Arctic nautical charts for the shipping lanes, approaches and ports along the Alaskan coast.
“We expect more increases of Arctic maritime traffic due to melting sea ice, which will require accurate and precise navigational data,” said Kathryn Ries, acting director of Coast Survey. “The sheer size of the task — the coast length of 921 nautical miles is really 2,191 miles of low tidal shoreline once you figure in the bays and inlets — requires that NOAA increase its charting efforts.”
Learn more about NOAA Ship Fairweather on the NOAA website.