WASHINGTON, D.C.--Depth charts of the Arctic Ocean, once the prowling grounds of nuclear submarines, will soon be declassified and in the hands of scientists. At a press conference held by the American Geophysical Union today, the Navy and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission announced plans to release an unprecedented amount of bathymetry data. Better maps of the ocean bottom will help scientists understand Arctic geology and the transport of contaminants by Arctic currents.
During the Cold War, nuclear submarines patrolling the Arctic Ocean took depth soundings to avoid bumping into the ocean bottom. Now the Navy will declassify ocean depth data recorded during missions that traversed more than 220,000 kilometers of the ocean bottom between 1957 and 1982, increasing 10-fold the amount of such information available to scientists. "At this moment, the research community of the world knows more about the topography of the planet Venus than it does about the bathymetry of the Arctic Ocean," says George Newton, who chairs the U.S. Arctic Research Comission, which advises Congress and the president on Arctic research issues and helped coordinate the agreement with the Navy.
Over the next 6 months, the data, contained mostly on "rolls and rolls" of chart recorder paper, will be digitized and made available free of charge on the Internet, joining other data the Navy has released on the Arctic, including temperature and salinity records. Rear Admiral Joseph Krol, director of Deep Submergence Systems says his office hadn't realized the scientific value of such "incidental data" until 1993, when the Navy began donating time aboard Arctic subs for science.