Ocean Mapping Mission Starts Off Alaska’s North Slope

Saildrone’s Arctic fleet has begun to map the 20-meter and 50-meter contour lines from Point Hope to the Canadian border.

A saildrone during a calibration rendezvous with the USCG Cutter Healy in the Chukchi Sea in 2017. USCG Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Norcross.

The 2020 Arctic Mapping mission is an acoustic single-beam bathymetry mission supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s effort to provide modern, accurate mapping data of the Bering Sea and Alaska’s North Slope. In collaboration with TerraSond on behalf of NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS), Saildrone launched four unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) from Alameda, CA, in late May. After a 11.5-week, 3,000-nautical mile transit, the vehicles have rounded Point Hope and arrived in the Arctic to begin the mission.

The saildrones are working to identify the 20-meter and 50-meter isobaths (contour lines), delineating a virtual lane to be mapped for safe passage of commercial vessels. They will also attempt to identify any unique depth observations.

This mission is the first step toward resolving major gaps in the charts of the Arctic. Accurate mapping data of the Arctic seafloor is integral to maritime safety, economic development, and sustainability efforts in the region.

Since its inception, Saildrone has launched Arctic missions from Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, AK, however, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the vehicles were launched from headquarters in San Francisco Bay and transited across the North Pacific Ocean to reach the survey area. This is the second Arctic mission in 2020 to be launched from Saildrone HQ; earlier in July, three Saildrone USVs began a 60-day survey of Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea on behalf of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center. 

TerraSond, with over 20 years of experience in hydrographic and marine geophysical mapping and charting, and a wealth of experience in the Arctic, will support survey planning and coverage as well as data processing for the mission.

Read more: Mapping the Arctic Seafloor Using Autonomous Vehicles


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