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Mapping under the Barents Sea continues

The Norwegian research vessel G.O. Sars will be used to explore the Norwegian side of the formerly-disputed sea bed of the Barents Sea this summer.

With the Barents Sea border dispute between Norway and Russia settled, Norway is getting to know its new underwater land.

Location

A team of ships from MAREANO, a mapping initiative that brings together many sectors of the Norwegian government, is setting off again this summer to continue its mission to gather information about the underwater sea beds off the coast of Norway.

One of three areas of interest this year is the area below the Barents Sea along the Russian border whose ownership was previously disputed.

MAREANO’s goal, is to create an “all-in-all survey” of the ocean floor, says Børge Holte, head of the executive group in charge of practical and scientific work. This means measuring everything from water depth and topography of the sea bed to animal biodiversity, habitats and pollution.

“It is a kind of frontier scientific work,” he tells the BarentsObserver, “it’s new science.”

And that means it’s not easy. Norwegian research vessel G.O. Sars will launch July 31 from Tromsø to spend 22 days surveying the southern part of the Barents Sea. While there, it will use “echo sounders” to measure depth, special underground cameras to take pictures of the sea floor and researchers will collect ground and animal samples.

Holte says computer modeling will then be used to help fill in the gaps between sample sites. He adds that while most terrain mapping will be completed in the next couple of years, a full analysis of the area won’t be finished until 2019.

This is not MAREANO’s first trip to the Barents Sea. It’s already collected data off the west coast of Finnmark, but this is the first time it will be heading towards Russia.

That area of the Barents Sea has long been an area of dispute between Russia and Norway; because of the oil and gas resources widely believed to lie beneath the ground, it took the two nations four decades to draw a mutually agreed upon line dividing the seabed between them.

In 2010, they finally agreed to split the disputed sea bed nearly in half. Now, scientists are ready to survey the new territory.

Also on the list for the 2013 season are the Mørebank area and an area called Skjoldryggen, which is off the coast of Nordland.

MAREANO, in operation since 2006, is a partnership between four Norwegian ministries: Fisheries and Coastal Affairs; Petroleum and Energy; Trade and Industry; and Environment. Although the program receives input from many organizations within the Norwegian government, the scientific work is guided by the Institute of Marine Research, the Geological Survey of Norway and the Norwegian Mapping Authority.

Holte says the main aim of the program is to “deliver data for future ecosystem-based management” to the government so it can better manage its underwater resources.

But, he’s clear the maps that are eventually created are “open official data to be used by anyone.” He says the data is often of interest to NGOs, fishing fleets and other groups.

The samples MAREANO gathers have already been used by other groups to identify up to 30 new species of animal, he says.

The bottom of the sea is one of science’s final areas of exploration and, thanks to the warming of the Artic, the land that lies beneath northern waters such as the Barents Sea has become hot property.

To that end, Holte says having more information about the sea available to anyone is beneficial to all.

“I believe it’s important to deliver this data to get an objective perspective of what we have,” he says, referring to the underwater environment at large.

“Then we’ll have objective discussion based on facts.”