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U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2004-1447

A Preliminary Assessment of Geologic Framework and Sediment Thickness Studies Relevant to Prospective US Submission on Extended Continental Shelf


Deborah R. Hutchinson1, Jonathan R. Childs2, Erika Hammar-Klose1, Shawn Dadisman3, N. Terrence Edgar3, and Ginger Barth2

1 USGS, Woods Hole Science Center, Woods Hole, MA 02543
2 USGS, MS 999, 345 Middlefield Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025
3 USGS, 600 Fourth Street South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701


Under the provisions of Articles 76 and 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal States have sovereign rights over the continental shelf territory beyond 200-nautical mile (nm) from the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured if certain conditions are met regarding the geologic and physiographic character of the legal continental shelf as defined in those articles. These claims to an extended continental shelf must be supported by relevant bathymetric, geophysical and geological data according to guidelines established by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS, 1999). In anticipation of the United States becoming party to UNCLOS, Congress in 2001 directed the Joint Hydrographic Center/Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire to conduct a study to evaluate data relevant to establishing the outer limit of the juridical continental shelf beyond 200 nm and to recommend what additional data might be needed to substantiate such an outer limit (Mayer and others, 2002). The resulting report produced an impressive and sophisticated GIS database of data sources. Because of the short time allowed to complete the report, all seismic reflection data were classified together; the authors therefore recommended that USGS perform additional analysis on seismic and related data holdings. The results of this additional analysis are the substance of this report, including the status of geologic framework, sediment isopach research, and resource potential in the eight regions1 identified by Mayer and others (2002) where analysis of seismic data might be crucial for establishing an outer limit .

Seismic reflection and refraction data are essential in determining sediment thickness, one of the criteria used in establishing the outer limits of the juridical continental shelf. Accordingly, the initial task has been to inventory public-domain seismic data sources, primarily those regionally extensive data held within the Department of the Interior (DOI). The numerous seismic reflection and refraction surveys collected prior to 1970 by academic and governmental institutions are generally not included in this compilation, except where they provide unique data in a region. These data sources were omitted from this report because they were deemed to be of insufficient quality (poorly navigated or low resolution) to meet the CLCS standards for a submission, or they were redundant with higher-quality, more modern data. Hence, this report attempts to identify those data sets of highest utility for establishing the outer limits of the juridical continental shelf. If there was any ambiguity or uncertainty about the relevance of a data set to a continental shelf submission, either by its quality, location, or other parameter, it was included in this compilation. This report does not summarize other geophysical data (such as marine magnetics or gravity) that might be relevant to understanding crustal provenance and geological continuity.

Detailed metadata tables and maps are included to facilitate the location and utilization of these sources when a comprehensive assessment (“desktop study”) is undertaken.

This report is available on CD-ROM only.
To purchase a copy, call 1-888-ASK-USGS.
For further ordering information, refer to:


CLCS, 1999, Scientific and technical guidelines of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Sixth session, CLCS, 11, corr. 1, 66 pp.

Mayer, L., Jakobsson, M., and Armstrong, A., 2002, The compilation and analysis of data relevant to a U.S. Claim under the United Nations Law of the Sea Article 76: A Preliminary Report: Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center Report, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H. , 75 pp.

1The 8 regions are NE Atlantic, SE Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, Arctic Ocean, Johnston Island atoll, and the Mariana Islands. For the convenience of illustration, the two Atlantic regions have been combined.

For further information contact Deborah Hutchinson or Jonathan R. Childs.