The new navigational chart 16161 addresses a pressing need for this Northwest Alaska transportation hub, located in the Arctic Circle. Most importantly, the improved navigational information will help mariners protect life and property, on board ship and in the coastal waters of Kotzebue.
NOAA has released a new nautical chart for Kotzebue Sound in the Alaskan Arctic. This region is seeing increased vessel traffic because of the significant loss of sea ice. Barge shipments and large transport ships must be anchored at least 14 miles out in the Kotzebue Sound due to shallow waters. Freight must then be transferred by smaller barges to Kotzebue.
NOAA’s nautical chart 16161 replaces a chart showing 19th century vintage depth measurements spaced three to five miles apart, leaving room for possible undetected dangers in between. The new chart depicts the full range of depth measurements and object detection acquired during a full ocean bottom survey conducted last summer on the NOAA Ship Fairweather. Using millions of precise depth measurements, the new chart will help mariners ‒ especially those who are unfamiliar with Kotzebue Sound ‒ make better decisions when approaching Kotzebue, resulting in safer and more efficient operations.
“The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading to growing shipping traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns,” said NOAA Corps Capt. David Neander, who was the commanding officer of the Fairweather during the survey. “Starting in 2010, we began surveying in critical Arctic areas where marine transportation dynamics are changing rapidly. These areas are increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges and fishing vessels.”
About one third of U.S. Arctic waters are considered navigationally significant, based on water depth, draft of ships transiting the area, and potential for pinnacle rocks or other dangers to navigation. Of that Arctic area, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has identified 38,000 square nautical miles as survey priorities and estimates that it will take well more than 25 years to survey and chart the prioritized areas of the Arctic seafloor. In total, U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes have half a million square nautical miles that are navigationally significant. NOAA sets survey and charting priorities every year.