Imagine you are the captain of a really big ship. I’m talking oil tanker, or maybe a cruise liner. It’s summer and you’re taking advantage of the new ice-free waters of Alaska’s northern coast brought about by global warming. All’s well until you scrape bottom and spring a leak. The chart indicated there was ample depth, but the hole in your hull says otherwise. Help is a long way off and you’ve a disaster unfolding. It’ll be too late to curse the map makers.

To head off anything resembling this scenario, the NOAA Coast Survey is getting set to make new charts of those coasts. The NOAA plan is to create 14 new charts aimed at supporting future maritime transportation north of the Aleutian Islands (see the map showing the proposed new charts).

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“As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, NOAA Coast Survey director, in a recent press release. Multi-year ice is the thicker sea ice which persists for more than a single winter. He points out that the danger is not only to ships, of course, but to the coastline as well. “Given the lack of emergency response infrastructure in remote Arctic waters, nautical charts are even more important to protect lives and fragile coastal areas.”

Underscoring the need for updated charts is the fact that in some locations little has been done to improve the bathymetric (seafloor) data since the survey of Captain Cook two centuries ago.

“Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” said Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s marine chart division. “We don’t have decades to get it done. Ice diminishment is here now.”

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It’s just another example of the many ways global warming is already here and needs to be dealt with. That said, in an excruciating counterpoint, there are legislators in Kansas and other states trying, right now, to outlaw climate science from public schools.

What these lawmakers really need, I’m thinking, is a vacation. I’d like to humbly suggest a cruise through the Northwest Passage.

Photo: NOAA