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Seafloor mapping project begins with research vessels in Nome

The R/V Thunder research vessel docked at the Port of Nome.
The R/V Thunder research vessel docked at the Port of Nome. Photo by Ava White/KNOM

A plan to map the seafloor of the entire planet will see researchers operating out of Nome this summer and fall.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has contracted with a multi-national engineering firm to scan the seabed, looking at both water depth and topographic details.

Two research vessels, the R/V Thunder and R/V Norseman II will collect data 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week through September. Also, a pair of unmanned, automated research vessels will skim the surface to conduct research.

Dave Neff is a hydrographer with Woolpert, the company contracted to complete the research.

“It can do about 10 days, it has about a 10-day endurance,” Neff said. “It can be out there for 10 consecutive days, running a 24-hour operation, and it sleeps about 10 people on it.”

He says the mariners and scientific crew aboard the two ships will make regular calls on the Port of Nome.

“We will be coming in periodically from the work offshore to resupply the vessel and do crew changes,” Neff said. “Both of those vessels will be visiting the port periodically.”

Neff adds that the data collected will be in the public domain and available to more than just scientists.

“Fishing groups and commercial fishing groups, recreational boaters, the mining and minerals and resources groups that work out of that that area, this is in support of all stakeholders in that area,” Neff said.

According to Neff, regional hydrographic data was most recently collected in the 1930s. Ocean floor mapping dates to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson created the U.S. Coast Survey Office.

The project will collect data across nearly 2,000 square nautical miles in Northern Norton Sound, which stretches from Golovin Bay through Nome to Cape Woolley on the western edge of the state. 

The contract between NOAA and Woolpert is valued at $7 million.

Image at top: The R/V Thunder research vessel docked at the Port of Nome. Photo by Ava White/KNOM

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