In 1776, a British Royal Navy captain James Cook set out on a mission to explore the mythical waterway, the Northwest Passage. Captain Cook wanted to determine if sailing was possible between Europe and Asia via the northernmost tip of North America.
The early explorer set out from Europe, traversed the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and approached the western coast of North America to areas now known as Oregon, Alaska and British Columbia. Cook sailed the Bering Strait as far as he could before it became impassable due to Arctic ice.
Cook’s skill as a captain, navigator and cartographer contributed to the greater understanding of the world’s landscape and waterways. In fact, some of Cook’s depth measurements in the Arctic are still used in areas where complete bathymetric surveys have not been done.
As with Cook, modern day organizations such as the United States Coast Guard are viewing the Arctic region as an “emerging frontier.” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp said in his 2013 State of the Coast Guard Address in February, “One example of what our future holds can be seen in the emerging frontier of the Arctic, where there is a new ocean appearing.”
Papp went on to say that the lowest ice extent in recorded history was observed in September 2012 and that there are now vast areas of open water where there used to be ice. As Arctic ice diminishes, commercial vessel traffic and tourism activity increases, and these activities create a greater need for Coast Guard presence.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Safety is also dedicated to maritime safety. It recently announced the addition of a new nautical chart for the Arctic that will help mariners safely navigate the waters of the Bering Strait.
According to NOAA’s charting plan for the Arctic, 13 other new charts will ultimately be required to improve chart coverage for areas experiencing increasing vessel traffic.
It’s amazing to know that waters originally explored over 200 years ago are now considered a “new frontier.”