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Open Access NOAA's Role in Defining the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf


The legal continental shelf is a maritime zone that typically goes out to 200 nautical miles from shore. It may, however, be extended beyond 200 nautical miles, based in part on the morphology of the continental margin. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets forth the requirements for how coastal countries can legally define such an extended continental shelf (ECS), within which they may manage the natural resources on and below the seabed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of State, is working to map, analyze, and define the seaward extent of the U.S. ECS. New advances in maritime technologies, such as improved multibeam echosounders, and associated visualization and analysis software aid in this effort by enabling project scientists to better understand seafloor geomorphology and interpret local and regional geologic processes. Marine geophysical data collected during this project are publicly available, benefiting the broader scientific community and public through timely data access and long-term preservation. To date, NOAA has led more than 30 high-resolution surveys and mapped more than 2 million square kilometers of sea floor in support of the U.S. ECS effort. New discoveries have been made during these surveys, and the data have contributed to better understanding of the morphology and geology of the U.S. continental margins.

Keywords: Law of the Sea; coastal baselines; data stewardship; maritime zones; seafloor mapping

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2015

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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