Why the Canadian Arctic Needs to be Mapped

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We know more about the universe around us than we do about the sea floor. The sea floor remains one of Earth’s unexplored frontiers, and new discoveries are being made every day. The lack of seafloor mapping could have drastic repercussions for the Canadian Arctic, which is becoming more and more travelled as the arctic warms up.

As arctic ice melts, the passageways in the arctic that were once permanently clogged with ice are now becoming passable. Transport vessels can now move more and more places, and passenger ships can go to more places easier than ever.

The Canadian Arctic includes 36,000 islands and more than two million square kilometers of ocean, which is becoming more and more accessible as ice melts. Without proper mapping of the ocean and the sea floor, the new passageways that are being opened could prove to be dangerous. Many of these passages wind between islands, over undersea ridges, and could be changed in matter of months because of currents and ice melt.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service is in charge of mapping the Canadian Arctic, but they’ve only gotten about 10% of the way through Canada’s Arctic holdings. Ships moving through the Canadian Arctic can move with some confidence in the mapped regions, but diverting into side channels that haven’t been adequately mapped could be dangerous.

The CHS uses LiDAR to map the sea floor, but they can only work when weather conditions are right. This cuts down their ability to map the rest of the Canadian Arctic quickly, and it may take many years for the many twists and turns of this place to be documented. To hasten the process icebreaker ships have been outfitted with research equipment, and other organizations contribute data to the CHS research in order to further the mapping of the sea floor.

Seabed surveys in the Canadian Arctic are done using using multi-beam sonar, sweep multi-transducer sweep systems and airborne laser bathymetry systems.  Image: Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS).

Seabed surveys in the Canadian Arctic are done using using multi-beam sonar, sweep multi-transducer sweep systems and airborne laser bathymetry systems. Image: Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS).

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