Extended Continental Shelf
Under international law, every coastal nation is entitled to delineate the outer limit of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from shore. Within this extended continental shelf, the coastal state has sovereign rights over the natural resources on and beneath the seabed.
Members of the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project Task Force are the U.S. Department of State, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of the Interior, Executive Office of the President, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Coast Guard, National Science Foundation, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Navy, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Minerals Management Service, and the Arctic Research Commission.
When the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Project was added to the President’s budget in 2008, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) assumed the agency’s annual funding and project coordination responsibilities.
In conjunction with NOAA's Office of Coast Survey and the University of New Hampshire, OER conducted the first U.S. Arctic ECS-related mapping expedition in 2003.
Since 2007, NOAA and the 12 other U.S. agencies, that make up the Task Force, have been gathering and analyzing survey data (i.e., bathymetry, seismic profiles, magnetic, gravity), legal data and seafloor samples to determine the outer limits of the U.S. ECS. These shelf extension determinations, ultimately, will provide a rich baseline for setting future exploration, research and resource management priorities and for understanding the diversity of this maritime zone.
OER supported four international ECS Arctic mapping expeditions between 2008 and 2011, involving the icebreakers U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent. The joint missions made it possible for the Healy and the Louis S. St-Laurent to operate together to obtain a variety of data useful to both countries in defining the full extent of their Arctic continental shelves.
The ECS Project conducted two bathymetric cruises in 2012. From July 2 to July 17, scientists on the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown collected nearly 65,000 square kilometers of bathymetric data in the southeast Atlantic to characterize the “foot of the slope” and downslope movement, both key parameters in delimiting our ECS.
- The data collected as part of the U.S. ECS Project are in the public domain and made available for other uses as rapidly as possible from the National Geophysical Data Center and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Joint Hydrographic Center.
From August 25 to September 28, scientists aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC ) Healy in the Arctic Ocean collected 69,000 square kilometers of bathymetric data (equivalent to an area the size of the states of Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined).
This project represents the largest and potentially most significant interagency marine survey ever undertaken by the U.S. To learn more...