The US GAO recently released a new report, Maritime Infrastructure: Key Issues Related to Commercial Activity in the U.S. Arctic over the Next Decade. Based on interviews with industry representatives who are in the process of exploring the region’s commercial readiness, the report found “general challenges related to operating in the Arctic, such as geography, extreme weather, and hard-to-predict ice floes.” These challenges make commercial activity difficult, but they also impact search and rescue missions, research, Coast Guard patrols and general operability. The main recommendation from this report is to prioritize two near term, broad categories: ” information infrastructure, such as mapping and charting, and response services, such as search and rescue.”
The Alaska Dispatch covered the GAO report release, noting that the report uncovered “less than 1 percent of navigationally significant waters in the U.S. Arctic have been surveyed with modern technology.” This knowledge gap is clearly a national security issue. Senator Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska, had this to say:
I thank the GAO for identifying the enormous need we have for mapping and charting our nation’s Arctic waterways,” she said. “The shocking fact that we have surveyed less than 1 percent of our critical northern waters should be a wakeup call to decision makers that we must demonstrate vision and act now.
Surveying less than one percent of the Arctic waters is like being aware of only the very tip of the iceberg.