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September 18, 2013

“Surface of Mars Has Been Mapped Better Than Our Oceans” – Arctic Sea Captain


Glaciers in the Arctic are now melting at a faster pace than they were only a few years ago, damaging wildlife habitats and opening up potentially dangerous new shipping lanes.

“It’s a scary proposition that things are happening a lot faster than we thought even a few years ago,” said James Overland, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who has spent decades looking at Arctic Sea ice trends. “The real scary thing that we’re focusing on now is, it’s not just the extent, but it’s the thickness of the ice, and that’s been going down dramatically.”


The melting ice is opening up new paths for shipping, but at this point ship captains have no way of knowing whether it’s safe to sail in the open water the melting ice leaves behind. To identify safe and perilous waters, a team of NOAA scientists based in Alaska is using sonar to create charts of the new sea floor.

“I think the surface of mars has been mapped better than our oceans have been,” said Commander Rick Brennan, who captains the ship that launched the NOAA scientists.

While Alaska’s congressional delegation in Washington asks for more infrastructure and resources in the state, the Coast Guard this summer built a temporary base near the Bering Strait to help manage the traffic of ships that has more than doubled in the area since 2008.

Warm up questions
  1. What is the scientific theory of climate change?
  2. What effect could climate change have on sea ice and glaciers?
  3. What is NOAA? What kinds of responsibilities do you think someone working at NOAA has?
Discussion questions
  1. Glaciers are huge and slow moving- how could you measure how fast they are melting?
  2. Why would it be dangerous to sail in unmapped waters? Hint: think of the Titanic.
  3. Why do you think the traffic of ships has more than doubled in the last five years? What types of businesses would want to travel to the Arctic Sea?
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