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Canada recently sent two icebreakers on a mission to bolster its claim to portions of the Arctic. The country now joins Denmark, Norway and Russia in competition to claim an expansive area of the Arctic that is believed to contain an extensive amount of natural gas and oil reserves.
The data collection portion of the mission, which is expected to last for six weeks, begins with the mapping of an area that extends from Ellesmere Island and continues to the North Pole. The four countries have all filed claims with the UN, and the mission is intended to obtain proof that underwater Lomonsov Ridge is an extension of the shelf of their particular continent. The Ridge extends for 1,700 kilometers from the islands of Siberia to Ellemere Island of the Canadian Arctic. What appears to be at stake is not the territory itself, but the vast reserves of untapped oil and natural gas which, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is estimated to be approximately 15% and 30% respectively of the world total. Canada’s environment minister, Leona Aglukkaq, states that the mission is meant to secure the sovereignty of the country while scientific and economic opportunities are explored.
The Law of the Sea, as applied under the United Nations convention, allows the countries to claim economic rights to resources on the ocean floor, or beneath the sea bed, for a distance of up to 200 nautical miles from the land mass. In any circumstances where the shelf exceeds the distance, evidence must be provided to the UN body, who will then issue recommendations for establishing extended territories.
The mission by Canada to join in the claims for the Arctic territory began on Friday, August 8, as the Coast Guard ship, Terry Fox, left Newfoundland, followed by the Louis St. Laurent, which left on Saturday, August 9. The trips follow a submission that was made to the UN in December with claims of 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic territory, however, Prime Minister Steven Harper has insisted on an expansion of the territory to be claimed.
Initial evaluations by several experts have suggested that the ridge may, in fact, be connected to the Canadian land mass, but with only aerial surveys, it cannot yet be substantiated. Both Russia and Denmark also make the same claim to the Lomonosov Ridge.
Geographically, the North Pole is located on the Danish side of the ridge, and a line that runs at equal distances from Ellesmere Island and Greenland. The geographic location may add some validation to the Danish claim of the territories, however, as early as 2001, Russia also filed a claim with the UN to extend the limits of its Continental Shelf.
Canada, Russia and Denmark are now involved in developing scientific proof and data to prove that the ridge can be claimed as part of an extension of the Continental Shelf. If Canada’s claim to the resource–rich territory is validated and accepted by the UN commission, it may bring some finality to an ongoing territorial dispute that began in 2001.
By Dale Davidson