August 08, 2008

Research backs Canada's Arctic claim (Does it?)

Scientists ready to present critical findings at geological congress

Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service

Published: Thursday, August 07, 2008

There will be no flag-waving or patriotic chest-thumping, but Canadian scientists are quietly set to make one of this country's most important assertions of Arctic sovereignty in decades tomorrow at a geology conference in Norway.

A year after Russian scientists planted their nation's flag on the North Pole seabed -- a controversial demonstration of their country's interest in securing control over a vast undersea mountain chain stretching across the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Ellesmere Island and Greenland -- the Canadian researchers have teamed with Danish scientists to offer proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is, in fact, a natural extension of the North American continent.

Their landmark findings, the initial result of years of sea floor mapping and millions of dollars in research investments by the Canadian and Danish governments, are to be presented at the 2008 International Geological Congress in Oslo under the innocuous title "Crustal Structure from the Lincoln Sea to the Lomonosov Ridge, Arctic Ocean."

The Arctic seafloor map that shows the Lomonosov Ridge as an extension of the North American land mass.View Larger Image View Larger Image

The Arctic seafloor map that shows the Lomonosov Ridge as an extension of the North American land mass.

Dennis Leung, The Ottawa Citizen

But the completion of the study represents a key step in Canada's effort to eventually win rights over thousands of square kilometres of the polar seabed, a potential treasure trove of oil and gas being made more and more accessible as melting ice unlocks our High Arctic frontier.

The stakes are so high that the Canadian and Danish governments set aside their differences over the ownership of Hans Island.

Along with Russia, both Canada and Denmark are preparing submissions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to secure jurisdiction over large swaths of the Arctic Ocean sea floor adjacent to their coastlines.

To secure those rights, each country has to submit scientific evidence proving the claimed undersea territories are linked geologically to its mainland or its Arctic islands.

Canada's planned UNCLOS submission includes areas in the Beaufort Sea in the western Arctic, on the Lomonsov Ridge in the east and along another underwater Arctic mountain range in the central Arctic called Alpha Ridge.

The Canadian-Danish study of the Lomonosov Ridge is to be presented in Oslo by Danish researcher Trine Dahl-Jensen and four scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada: Ruth Jackson, Deping Chian, John Shimeld and Gordon Oakley.

The study describes various geological traits observed by the two countries' scientists -- including magnetic anomalies, crust characteristics and volcanic features -- that appear common to both the ridge and adjacent parts of Canada and Greenland.

As a further sign of the intensifying interest in the Lomonosov Ridge and its potential petroleum riches, a Russian study being presented at the Oslo congress explores Lomonosov-Siberian connections and a study by the U.S. Geological Survey examines the ridge's oil and gas potential.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

Hate to say it, but that's not my understanding of this issue at all.

The Russians had a legitimate claim, as afterall, they were the first to plant the (titanium) flag.

1 comment:

CaitlynA said...

Everyone, Russians included, say that planting the flag is not a territorial claim - no more than the US planting a flag on the moon, a decision that was hotly debated in 1969 and, again, every nation, including the US, stated that the flag symbolized accomplishment in exploration, not a claim.

Pending confirmation from the geologists, it appears that the Lomonosov Ridge is not actually a ridge in the way that seabed ridges at the borders of the tectonic plates are. It is actually a slice of continental material that once ran from north Asia, across the edge of the Greenland shelf to North America. In charts of the Arctic seabed you can see the underwater spreading center that forced that slice of shelf away from the Greenland plate. As such, both Russia and Greenland/Canada can make a science-based claim that they meet the standard of the LOS Convention. A cursory examination of bathymetry data suggests that the connection to Asia is shallower than that to Greenland/Canada, but the decision of control is not a contest of which geological connection is stronger, it is whether one or both claims meet the conditions set by the LOS Convention. If both both ends of the Ridge meet the geological standard required, then Russia and Canada & Greenland will have to work out a division of the Ridge between themselves (possibly using an equidistance principle). Since the ridge is unlikely to be as well endowed with hydrocarbon deposits as the broad shelves already under national control, this appears to be a fight of more impact in the media and in blogs than it will be in the world energy markets.

On the other hand, I find it very encouraging that all the Arctic nations remain committed to resolve the territorial disputes based on the Law of the Sea Convention and geological and bathymetric data rather than resort to force.