Canada asks scientists to extend Arctic shelf claim to North Pole
“This is about the best possible deal for Canada’s borders”
Canada will spend more time working on its Arctic continental shelf claim to extend the country’s claim as far as the North Pole and possibly beyond, once it completes scientific work for submission to the United Nations oceans law division.
When the Canadian government signed to the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2003, the country had 10 years to chart claims to undersea continental shelf extensions.
Under the agreement, known as UNCLOS, countries are allowed to pursue such claims beyond the internationally recognized 320-kilometre limit from their ocean coastlines.
Those 10 years expired Dec. 6. But Canada submitted a claim only for continental shelf areas extending into the Atlantic Ocean.
As for continental shelf claims in Arctic, Canada now says that federal scientists must do more work.
“We need to do more work in our submission for the North,” Leona Aglukkaq, minister responsible for the environment, the Arctic Council and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, said Dec. 9.
Aglukkaq and Foreign Affairs minister John Baird said in Ottawa that Canada’s Dec. 6 submission to the UN covers the Atlantic Ocean only.
More work is needed to complete the country’s claims on the Arctic Ocean to the fullest extent possible, including “Canada’s claim to the North Pole,” Baird told reporters.
“This is about the best possible deal for Canada’s borders,” Aglukkaq told Nunatsiaq News.
“This is not a race,” she said of the Dec. 6 deadline. “This is about getting the lines right for Canada. And if it means we need to do more work and more scientific data is required to make our submission, we will do our due diligence of getting that information for Canada.”
In a technical briefing from Ottawa earlier in the day, officials from three government departments gave a broad overview of Canada’s claims in the Arctic, and how surveyors and researchers have approached the task.
Dr. Jacob Verhoef of Natural Resources Canada said Canada’s bid to claim the seabed up to the North Pole hinges on the country’s claim to the Lomonosov Ridge.
Described as a 1,700-kilometre-long “mountain chain” on the floor of the Arctic Ocean, the ridge extends from northern Ellesmere Island and Greenland to Russian Siberia, Verhoef said.
Surveyors must prove the ridge extends from Canada’s continental shelf. That would give the country grounds to claim extensive areas on the ocean floor, up to the North Pole and beyond.
“We are fairly confident that we’ve made the case that these ridges are national prolongations from the continent,” Verhoef told reporters at the briefing.
“That means we can go beyond 350 nautical miles on some of those ridges,” he added, referring to claims.
Asked what natural resources may be found on the floor of the Arctic Ocean, Verhoef, who is a geologist by trade, said this was “unknown.”
The remoteness of the region, located between the edge Canada’s northern-most Nunavut islands to the North Pole, coupled by “difficult” ice conditions, present a big challenge for survey efforts.
Despite this, Verhoef said government surveyors have so far covered about 100,000 kilometres from the air, sea and ice surfaces with ships and icebreakers, and “underwater automated vehicles.”
“Doing this kind of work is not a simple job,” Verhoef said.
Government officials could not say how long it would take to complete the survey work for submission to the UN commission.
“Although we’ve made substantial progress, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Hugh Adsett, director-general of legal affairs for the Foreign Affairs department.
“We can’t predict at this point how long it will take,” he added. “It’s not a race — we want to make sure we do take the time required to do the best job possible.”
Aglukkaq said the government has spent about $117 million on all continental shelf survey work on the country’s ocean coastlines since work got under way 10 years ago.
Surveys of Canada’s Atlantic seabed covered 1.2 million square kilometres, amounting to the size of Alberta and Saskatchewan combined. Officials could not give an estimate of how much area would be covered in the Arctic Ocean.