Canadian scientists will spend most of August examining the seabed of the Beaufort Sea, trying to shed some light on one of the most controversial aspects of the "over-the-top" pipeline proposal.
The Canadian Coast Guard ship Nahidik is scheduled to sail July 30 to gather information on how thick ice gets in the Beaufort and how much it scours the seabed.
A spokesman for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said scientific interest in the western Arctic is being "elevated by questions of climate change and oil and gas development."
He said a new multi-beam sonar will be used to illuminate the sea bottom in greater detail than ever before. The most recent research dates from the 1980s when development of oil and gas in the Canadian Arctic was first mooted.
The spokesman said the summer research is just the start of a multi-year program, although some results are expected by spring 2002.
Northwest Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi told the Canadian Press news agency that the CCG study is a welcome sign of support from the Canadian government for a Mackenzie Valley pipeline, although the government has maintained a strictly neutral stance on pipeline options.
"They're checking it out, is my sense," he said. "They don't want to look like they're committed, but they're very interested in supporting a Mackenzie Valley route."
Environmentalists, along with the Alaska and Yukon governments, have raised strong objections to the "over-the-top" proposal by Arctic Resources which wants to place a pipeline in a trench across the Beaufort from the North Slope to the Mackenzie Delta.
They have warned that a pipeline in shallow Beaufort waters would pose a large environmental risk if it ruptured during the winter.