NPD profile: Popular on paper

Alf Stensøy, the man behind the NPD’s wall map of the NCS, finds it amusing that a printed chart provides the quickest overview – even in the digital age.
  • Bjørn Rasen and Emile Ashley (photos)

Alf Stensøy

Repeat run. Alf Stensøy gives away the 39th edition of the NCS map during ONS 2010. Some 150 000 people have received a copy so far.


The waters from which Norway reaps most of its prosperity hang framed behind glass in many offices inside and outside the petroleum industry – and both at home and abroad.

While the world may not be flat, thin or quadrilateral, the 39th annual edition of the NCS map presents a two-dimensional view of conditions.

That has proved more than adequate for its 150 000 owners, and it remains the most popular give-away at the biennial ONS oil exhibition and conference in Stavanger.

The whole thing had a modest start, recalls Mr Stensøy, a principal engineer at the NPD who has worked on the map since joining the agency in 1978.

First published in 1972, the map of the NCS was coloured by hand for the first three years. Only 100 copies were produced in the early days.

Until 1980, too, the map was confined to the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. It was then expanded to cover the country’s entire coast and continental shelf.

Areas previously in dispute are also set to be included. Mr Stensøy says he is ready to calculate new areas as and when the Barents Sea boundary deal receives parliamentary approval from the Russian Duma and Norway’s Storting.



Calculating areas is not a straightforward exercise and, since the Earth is round, Mr Stensøy and other cartographers turn to geodesy for help.

This is the science of the planet’s size, shape and gravitational field, with satellites used to help measure these quantities.

Metering stations located around the world allow the Norwegian Mapping Authority to calculate movements of the Earth’s crust, variations in sea level and gravitational effects. All these factors must then be included in the mapping calculations.

Mr Stensøy admits that the twodimensional format of the NCS map – from a three-dimensional reality – as a four-sided poster means that the scale is only accurate in the middle.

He nevertheless maintains that the map “provides valuable, quickly absorbed information about the petroleum activity on the NCS”.

Nor does he believe the paper chart has outlived its usefulness. “It’s more the case that the electronic maps in our databases complement the paper version.

“Our continental shelf and map data – freely available via our website – provide the basis for others to generate their own maps. And feedback suggests that this information is enormously important for others.”



The NPD’s generalised visualisation of geographic objects in their spatial relationships – as one definition of a map puts it – may serve several purposes, including an aesthetic function.

“We’ve actually produced a special edition in pink,” says Mr Stensøy. “Somebody in one of the ministries said the map was great, but didn’t quite go with the colour scheme in her office.”

He hastens to add that the version with the mainland in red and the NCS in pink was a one-off. “We don’t accept special orders,” he emphasises.



Nothing just happens. Even with good maps, the road to good utilisation of the oil and gas resources on the NCS is a demanding one.

According to the NPD’s analyses, 40 per cent of the petroleum off Norway has been recovered and a further 20 per cent proven. The remaining 35 per cent is waiting to be discovered.

These figures are naturally uncertain, but Mr Stensøy would nevertheless prefer to increase them. “I think there’s a lot more out there,” he affirms.

His optimism rests on studies of developments on other continental shelves, and he presents maps which show rising discovery trends in foreign waters.

This should be possible on the NCS as well, he maintains, and also points to technological progress and expanding knowledge. Systematised, that should expose further sub-surface secrets.

He has known the sweet smell of success and been closely involved with major reserves. His offshore career began with test production from Ekofisk in the North Sea during the early 1970s, and he was ship’s engineer on the Gulftide jackup for that job.



Mr Stensøy’s present work also involves looking beyond the 85 x 112 centimetres of the NCS map. “I produce a weekly report on international operations, with drilling on adjacent continental shelves being of particular interest,” he says.

Few other countries produce anything to match the Norwegian map, and none have the same volume of information and level of detail. That comparison also applies to all the other data published through the NPD’s website.

When not monitoring exploration and production off Norway and internationally from his mapping office, Mr Stensøy prefers to spend his time fishing from his pleasure boat.

He formed a relationship with the sea when working as a fisherman in his boyhood, and is able to navigate by lighthouse and radio beacon as well as with a sextant.

According to him, he could be deposited in a small boat anywhere off the coast from Bergen to Stavanger and find his way home – without charts or other navigational aids.

But although countless voyages mean that he knows the islands fringing this part of the Norwegian coast like the back of his hand, he always carries charts whenever he puts to sea.