The Northwest Passage, the Arctic Ocean route between the Atlantic and the Pacific, is 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. 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, but in the past, even in 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.
Four Saildrone Explorers collected single-beam bathymetry to support 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 vehicles sailed a zig-zag pattern to identify the 20-meter and 50-meter isobaths (contour lines), delineating a virtual lane to be mapped in high-resolution for the safe passage of commercial vessels.
Data collected will be used to improve nautical charts of the Arctic, and lays the groundwork for future mapping operations in the Arctic and beyond.