Canada’s Arctic: The Final Frontier (U. Khan)

With Southern Ontario being under extreme heat over the past week, I decided to write a blog about a topic that is much cooler. Earlier this week, the Canada Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent left Dartmouth on a voyage to the Arctic Ocean. The official mission of the 2016 Arctic Survey is to collect bathymetric and geophysical data to determine the outer extent of Canada’s Arctic boundary. The issue of Arctic sovereignty is one that has become increasingly important with time, and surveys like this one are very important in protecting Canada’s interests in the region.


UntitledMap of the Arctic region with various geographical structural features identified.

Source: Radio Canada


The data obtained from the expedition will be used to support Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) that was created under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLS). The convention gives each nation exclusive access to an area extending to 200nm (Nautical Miles) from their coast. This can be extended another 150 nm (or more) if a country can prove that its continental shelf extends further into the ocean. In the case of the Arctic, Canada claims that the Lomonosov and the Alpha-Mendeleyev Ridges are elevated extensions of our continental landmass. Thus allowing us to claim the area in the region of the North Pole. Canada has submitted a partial case with the CLCS and aims to submit a full report in 2018 with the analyzed data from this survey.

Why Now?

Chapter 10 of The Canadian Environment in Political Context talks about how the Arctic is changing. The fact that sea ice is melting in record numbers is not only worrying for the world, but it also puts into place issues about who owns the area that was previously inaccessible. Arctic sea ice has found to have reached its lowest level since NASA started keeping records in the 1970s. Scientists believe that it could be as early as 2050 when the Arctic Ocean will be ice free during the summer months. A consequence of the melting sea ice is increasing arctic tourism, increased fishing activity, and increased oil and gas explorations to name a few. All of these things requires new policies be created, and a resolution on the question of who governs what.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama had a meeting on Arctic issues and discussed various avenues of cooperation between the two countries. They released a joint statement that goes into detail about the proposed cooperation in the Arctic in the areas of Climate Change and the Environment. This is a great step forward for Arctic cooperation between our countries, but there are also disagreements that have not been sorted out. One example of which is the maritime border of the Beaufort Sea. The US has not ratified UNCOS, and thus Canada does not have the option of having a tribunal resolve the problem. Prime Minister Trudeau should try to persuade the United States to join the UNCOS and try to resolve the issue through their tribunal system, or work directly and try to reach an agreement. The issue should be resolved as soon as possible, before the dispute leads to a more serious confrontation.

No matter how the boundaries are drawn, Arctic nations will have to work together on issues such as navigation and climate change that affect all the countries. The current Arctic survey has Canadian scientists collaborating with Swedish and Danish scientists to better understand the Arctic. Since this area is one of the least understood places on the planet, cooperation is required to better understand it. Another example of cooperation was a recent round of Arctic Fisheries negotiations that happened in Canada. Ten Arctic nations gathered in Iqaluit to negotiate an agreement for sustainable fishing in the Arctic. The region has great potential for a fishing industry as it has gone untapped for centuries. These examples show that cooperation is possible and can be mutually beneficial. Therefore, the government needs to work with the other Arctic nations in making sure that economic activities are conducted in a balanced manner with environment conservation. The first priority however should be to make the most comprehensive submission possible to define our Extended Continental Shelf.


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