University of New Hampshire to help US gain $1.3 trillion in ocean resources

DURHAM, NH -- The University of New Hampshire will lead an ocean mapping project that could expand the internationally recognized U.S. continental shelf on both the east and west coast with land containing up to $1.3 trillion in resources according to some estimates. The project will be funded with a $3.2 million appropriation secured by Senator Judd Gregg and approved this week by Congress.

"We are very confident that we can expand the limits of our continental shelf," says Larry Mayer, director of UNH's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (C-COM) and an earth sciences professor. Mayer and Martin Jakobsson, research scientist, have been gathering data to show where the U.S. might logically make its expanded claims--which would include access to oil, mineral, and fisheries resources.

The stakes are huge, according to Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which reported the $1.3 trillion estimate in its December 6, 2002, issue.

A 1982 U.N. convention on the Law of the Sea gave about 150 coastal nations control of an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles off their shores. According to one provision of the convention, some countries stand to gain territory and resources if they can prove their claim to the sea floor. While the US has not yet formally approved the Law of the Sea Treaty, it is moving to protect potential US interests.

But to make that claim, they need a map providing critical information such as seismic data (to determine sediment thickness) and bathymetry (determining the shape of the ocean floor) "With poor data, it will be difficult to make a claim," says Jakobsson. "So the first step was determining what information exists--and where we need to gather more."

A map produced two years ago by Jakobsson providing the world's most up-to-date information on the floor of the Arctic Ocean led Gregg to request a report on what would be needed to protect US intere

Contact: Suki Casanave
University of New Hampshire

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