Larry Mayer: I think it’s really a wonderful demonstration about how science and the law can blend together to do things in a very, very directed way to come up with a very peaceful result.
Geophysicist Larry Mayer is referring to the United Nation’s Law of the Sea. It’s a twenty-seven-year-old treaty that allows countries to extend their maritime boundaries – if they back their claim requests with science. To support the U.S. claim, Mayer and his team have mapped more than a million square kilometers of seafloor since 2003.
Larry Mayer: … based on the depth of the sea floor, the shape of the sea floor, and the thickness of sediment.
Mayer said that many countries want to extend their maritime boundaries because of the natural resources contained in and under the sea like fish, minerals and petroleum.
Larry Mayer: There’s been lots of misinterpretation about the mapping we’re doing and particularly the mapping we’re doing in the Arctic. There’s all this talk about it being a terrible land grab and I think it’s really just the opposite.
Mayer expects many countries, including the U.S., will gain territory with the Law of the Sea Treaty as its guide, although, he says, seafloor data analysis could take years. This treaty has been in the news lately because the U.S. is considering signing it. As of mid-2009, the U.S. had not yet done so.
Larry Mayer added that the Law of the Sea Treaty has the additional benefit of protecting the sea floor and underlying resources under stringent environmental laws. He explained the science behind his seafloor mapping:
Larry Mayer: Our efforts have really focused on what we call the bathymetry, measuring the depths. And that we do with an instrument with a multibeam sonar which puts out a little ping of sound, a number of very narrowly focused beam of sound and we can map as much as 3-4 times the water depth with great accuracy. We are looking in particular for a major change in the slope of the seafloor.
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