BOEM Moves Forward with Ongoing Arctic Habitat Study

Published Aug 8, 2012 10:01 AM by The Maritime Executive

Scientists Begin New Phase of Chukchi Sea Research

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to science-based resource management in the Arctic and advancing the focused effort to incorporate new scientific and environmental information throughout implementation of the Five Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the next steps in an important study of the Hanna Shoal area in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska.

A team of scientists left Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for a three-week expedition as part of a long-term study of marine life in the Hanna Shoal area in the northeast Chukchi Sea.  Previous studies of Hanna Shoal have documented sustained benthic productivity, accompanied by high concentration of water birds, walruses, and whales.  This study will help identify and measure important physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in this area, advancing BOEM’s understanding of environmental considerations such as food web dynamics and potential contaminant bioaccumulations. 

This new information will help inform BOEM’s future resource management decisions in the Arctic.  As discussed in the Proposed Final Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017, BOEM has developed a focused leasing strategy for the Arctic that is specifically designed to identify areas with significant oil and gas resource potential while minimizing possible conflicts with environmentally sensitive areas. This research supports ongoing efforts to further develop and aggregate scientific information to identify both areas that may be made available for oil and gas leasing and areas that may be deferred under this targeted leasing model.

“We are taking a cautious approach to any future leasing in the Arctic and scheduled Alaska sales later in the Five Year Program to allow for the continued development of exactly this kind of scientific information,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau.

Over the course of the Hanna Shoal study, which runs until 2016, scientists will identify and measure important physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in the area. Work will include documenting physical and oceanographic features, ice conditions and information concerning local species.

The Hanna Shoal project will occupy more than 30 sampling stations, including overlap with selected stations from previous research. The investigation team consists of a uniquely qualified group from the University of Texas at Austin, Florida Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, Old Dominion University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who conducted previous research in the area, along with additional researchers from the University of Rhode Island and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  The researchers will travel aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

The mission follows BOEM’s publication of a major study titled “Chukchi Sea Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA): Chemical and Benthos (CAB),” (http://www.data.boem.gov/PI/PDFImages/ESPIS/5/5182.pdf), which establishes updated baseline information on the biological and chemical characteristics of the Chukchi Sea planning area. Through work conducted during two field seasons in 2009 and 2010, scientists characterized the chemical and biological environment of the seabed prior to any anticipated oil and gas exploration activities. 

BOEM manages the exploration and development of the nation's offshore energy and mineral resources. The bureau seeks to balance economic development, energy production, and environmental protection through oil and gas leasing, renewable energy development and environmental reviews and studies. More information about BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program is available at: http://www.boem.gov/studies/.