Remarks by Mead Treadwell
Commissioner, U.S. Arctic Research Commission

Next Generation GPS for Enhanced Business Productivity:
"Because Time is Money and Location is Everything!"

Public Media Forum
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It has been about eight below zero degrees at home in Anchorage, with close to minus 50 chills in Bethel, Alaska in the last week.

I give you the weather report to reaffirm what has been said here today: the Arctic, as you know, is not a place you want to get lost.

For years, mankind has relied on the North Star, a steady light...when it isn't cloudy. We have relied on the less steady magnetic North Pole, with its continuing variation. We have erected stone cairns, called Inuksuit by the Inuit, to make our way through the Arctic.

But whether you're navigating a skin boat among the ice floes or piloting a 747 across the Pole between the continents, your star of choice today is NAVSTAR, the Geographic Positioning System. And we will need it until we pick up the homing capabilities of the salmon ourselves.

Moreover, if you look at the top of the globe, you'll see what explorers and sailors have recognized for over five centuries.

"The near way to the Far East is North." Lindbergh knew it. Sir John Franklin knew it. Captain James Cook knew it. Stefansson knew it...and said it, again and again.

Today, we know it too – and we use that part of the world, that great circle, as a continuing frontier of exploration and research.

My point in being here today is twofold. First, the major contributions the American Arctic makes to our global economy and to our knowledge of global processes would be nothing like it is without the capabilities of the GPS.

We're not just on the cutting edge of civilization, we're on the cutting edge of applying the advanced timing and location capabilities of GPS – every day – to serve global commerce. The second point I'm here to make is one you're likely to hear much of from the Arctic Research Commission in the coming year. It is vital to America's interests – its economic interest, its security interest, and its interest in leading the world in developing knowledge – that we enhance and maintain the infrastructure necessary to support Arctic research.

When we say that, we're usually talking about icebreakers, communications links, remote sensing satellites – some big ticket items that have brought so much to the leadership position of the United States. Maintaining these investments will do much to solve the unsolved mysteries of the Arctic.

But what I've learned through my service on the Commission has been reaffirmed here today: we cannot take the GPS capability for granted. Indeed, as the recent task force of the Defense Science Board said, we have to put our head down and move full speed ahead to take advantage of the new capabilities of GPS and to maintain our leadership position.

And the fact that GPS signals fall like rain and are used by everyone has set up a paradox – all of us benefit, but few of us go to bat for the system.

GPS – old and new -- is vital to helping my part of the world do what it does for the rest of the world.

Let me close with a few examples.

Aviation research and development: The tragedy of KAL 007 in 1983 led President Ronald Reagan to make GPS more widely available for civil purposes.

(I remember it well, as I used to make that flight from Anchorage to Seoul often.)

The continuing challenge of safe aviation in the Arctic has led the FAA, NIOSH, and the aviation community to come together with a series of programs to have smarter cockpits, better information in the hands of the pilot, better training, and more coordination with air traffic controllers. If you are into aviation, be it military, civil or commercial, programs like CAPSTONE, the Medallion Foundation, and ADSB – all improving with better GPS – have been pioneered in the Arctic.

From the Commission, we've pushed this not just as a commerce issue, but as a health issue, as three of the most dangerous professions in America – flying, fishing and logging – happen in Alaska. Whether it is support for better instrument flying or support for more effective search and rescue, GPS has allowed us to innovate and preserve life. I can think of no better memorial to the victims of KAL 007.

With advanced GPS, I expect our monitoring of volcanoes – a major hazard to aviation – and earthquakes and tsunamis – a hazard to us all – can also be improved.

Mapping and data collection: The International Polar Year, 2007-2008, comes 50 years after the International Geophysical Year. We will soon have upon us one of the largest, coordinated research efforts across several disciplines that the world has seen – all to the benefit of understanding the earth's processes, working from the Northern and Southern ends of the earth.

Upgrading GPS could not have come at a better time. We will see large new monitoring systems put in place, in the oceans to track temperature, currents, salinity of seawater, and the health of all ends of the food chain.

Our efforts to map the Arctic will move with capabilities not in place when topographic and hydrographic maps were made of the rest of America.

Because of Article 76 of the Law of the Sea, there is a rush right now to map the Arctic Ocean floor. Russia has claimed 45 percent of that ocean as their own, and it is up to America and other Arctic nations to answer that claim. Here's the catch: recent geologic drilling in the Arctic basin has shown this may be one of the largest undiscovered sources of hydrocarbons the world has seen. Do we have a lot at stake with mapping and delineating our claim? Yes we do.

I should say that the needs of energy and mineral development today require GPS continuously...and that mapping proposed pipeline routes in areas where augmented systems are sparse or expensive ... will benefit greatly from enhanced GPS.

Fishing and Ship safety: A confluence of upwelling nutrients and the Great Circle Route means that the richest fishery in the world - the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea - and the world's busiest sealanes share the same ocean.

Trawling the oceans is beginning to need the same precision as GPS enhanced agriculture. The boundaries of what you can catch, where you can catch, and when you can catch – all must be respected. To do this economically means not repeating your effort. One of my favorite firms exploiting this kind of technology is called Scientific Fishery Systems.

As one who has stood in the situation room monitoring search and rescue for a fisherman lost at sea, I can tell you the improvements to monitoring and ship location reporting allowed by GPS has given greater peace of mind to many a fisherman's family. And if having location data can prevent oil spills like the Selendang Ayu, while improving homeland security, I'm all for it.

Security: The contributions of GPS, new and old, to security are tremendous. Alaska is the site of the first operational ballistic missile defense, and the continuing testbed, research and development requires not just the location aspects of missile defense, but also the timing aspects.

Finally, and you can take this home to your kids: GPS is helping our research programs understand and protect the wildlife and ecology of the north. Radio tracking collars, some now with Fastlock GPS, have taught us amazing things about urban bears and polar bears, ringed seals and ribbon seals, Albatross and Arctic tern. Buoys with GPS are showing us changing currents. Glaciers marked with GPS are showing us the effects of changing climate on their retreat and advance.

Let me conclude by saying this: whether your orientation is south, west, east, or north like mine, it would be foolhardy to take GPS for granted. We can't wait for the further advancements in timing, signaling, and accuracy to come. Bring them on.

Thank you very much.

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