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Development of Arctic Science and Instrumentation for 
Geology and Geophysics

Bernard Coakley, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska

Exploration of the Arctic Ocean has always relied on the availability of equipment suitable for Arctic deployment and access to Arctic-capable platforms. After World War II, national security needs dictated an active research presence in the Arctic. This research presence was supported through air-serviced ice islands and occasional ice-breaker cruises. These arduous programs deployed sensors similar to those used at lower latitudes, collecting the data that began to fill in the blank spot of the Arctic map.

While these programs produced much "new" knowledge, establishing the broad outlines of the basin morphology and oceanography, they were severely limited by the restricted mobility of ice islands and icebreakers, which, limited by or borne by the pack ice, prevented the execution of structured surveys. Airborne magnetic surveys provided the first comprehensive view of the Arctic Ocean basin, but, limited by the lack of co-registered bathymetric data, these data have not been of much use outside of the Eurasian basin.

Early nuclear-powered submarine cruises in the Arctic Ocean sometimes visited ice island research stations. The drifting scientists were impressed by this mobility, unhindered by ice, and speculated about how it might be used for science. While much of the bathymetry data collected during these classified cruises was recently declassified and released, systematic surveys of the Arctic seafloor were not conducted until the SCICEX program of unclassified cruises on Sturgeon class fast-attack submarines.

The initial SCICEX cruises utilized only the ship's own narrow-beam bottom sounder and a Bell BGM-3 marine gravimeter. With NSF funding, new sonars, designed for submarine operations in the Arctic Ocean, were developed and installed on the USS Hawkbill. These sonars were used during SCICEX 98 and 99 to collect swath bathymetry and chirp sub-bottom profiler data across the entire Arctic Ocean basin, focusing on the Lomonosov and Gakkel Ridges in the Eurasian basin.

We now know a good deal about the Gakkel and Lomonosov Ridges and the eastern edge of the Chukchi Plateau. The primary objectives for future cruises are obscured by the wind-thickened ice pack north of Greenland and Arctic Canada (eg. Alpha Ridge and the northern shelf and slope of North America) or are remote and difficult to achieve (eg. Mendeleev Ridge). The instruments and platforms used to explore these features will need to solve the same problems that have been solved before. A particular problem for submarines and AUVs is automating data acquisition and acquiring precision under-ice navigation.

The development of Arctic Ocean exploration from drifting ice islands to structured surveys conducted with purpose built instruments is continuing today, as evidenced by this meeting. A variety of science problems, articulated by results from lower latitude and the need to develop fully global models of climate and plate tectonics are driving the development of new research platforms and new, appropriate tools for basin exploration. As a result of this work, it appears likely that in the next decade there will be a coherent program of scientific drilling and AUV exploration of the Arctic Ocean.

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