The Navy, resolving a four-year dispute involving what it described as a matter of high national security, has authorized the Commerce Department to begin publishing detailed maps of the ocean floors surrounding the United States.
The decision, announced Thursday, means that “most” of the detailed ocean-bottom maps of the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration soon will be declassified and released to the public, the Navy said.
The only maps the Navy said it will continue to insist remain classified “Secret” are those covering “egress routes” used by ballistic missile submarines sailing from their home ports.
There are four such home ports on the East and West coasts of the United States for nuclear missile submarines: Groton, Conn.; Charleston, S.C.; Kings Bay, Ga., and Bangor, Wash.
The dispute now being resolved involves an effort by the NOAA and various universities to use a new “Sea Beam” sonar mapping system to produce detailed maps--almost like black-and-white photos--of the ocean bottom.
The agency is trying to survey the entire Exclusive Economic Zone, which runs from 12 miles to 200 miles off the U.S. coast. Within that zone, the United States asserts control when it comes to such economic development activities as fishing, mining and oil drilling.
Variety of Uses
The maps are likely to prove invaluable to the oil and gas industry and companies that lay cables on the sea floor. Fishermen could use them to locate areas where fish congregate, and eventually the maps could help companies mine strategic minerals.
The Navy, however, saw a potential danger--detailed maps of the ocean bottom along America’s coast would be particularly useful to commanders of Soviet submarines.