Battle for the Arctic
The Arctic is under siege as never before.
The Russians send submarines deep below the North Pole. The Americans dispatch surveillance planes to monitor new threats in the north. And Canada is now forced to scramble to defend territories it has ignored for too long.
Canadian scientists are now joining the soldiers on the front lines of this new frontier, as they race to chart Canada's Arctic claims under the looming deadline of an international treaty. The Battle for Arctic takes you from the far reaches of the North Pole to the waters of Alaska for a look into a struggle for sovereignty that could change the very face of Canada.Polar icecap prior to 2005. Polar icecap in 2007.
Global warming is turning the far north into a resource hotspot. In two short years - from 2005 to 2007, the polar icecap shrank to the smallest size ever recorded; some experts believe the pole could be ice-free in summer within two decades. The fabled NorthWest Passage could become a new super highway for cargo and cruise ships.
And beneath the rapidly melting ice lies much of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves. "The Arctic probably has 30% of all undiscovered natural gas in the world...and between 13 to 15% of all undiscovered oil in the world. That's a lot of resources," says Rob Huebert of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
Just a few hundred kilometers from the North Pole, at the tip of one of Canada's northernmost pieces of land on Elsmere Island, a hardy group of Canadian scientists are trying to map the vast underwater mountain ranges and ridges hidden deep beneath the ice. But they are not the only ones racing to map the Arctic. The Russians have their eyes on the North Pole and the eastern Arctic. In the oil rich Beaufort Sea in the Western Arctic, it's the Americans.The increasingly frequent site of a tourist ship in the Northwest Passage.
What has set off this new wave of Arctic exploration is a treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Here is how it works: Every country now controls the resources under its coastal waters up to 200 miles from its shore. But under the treaty a country's territory can be expanded much further if you can prove the ridges and rock formations underneath the water are connected to your continental shelf.
But it's a race against time. Countries have ten years from when they sign the treaty to submit their scientific data to a UN commission. Canada has just four years left - until 2013. "From Canadians' point of view this is an opportunity that will never come again," says Ruth Jackson of the Geological Survey of Canada.
The stakes are huge - if all of Canada's Arctic claims under the UN treaty are accepted, the additional waters would increase the country by the size of three Prairie Provinces. But for that to happen, Canada has to map thousands of kilometres of a forbidding landscape.On the bridge of the HMCS Toronto, patrolling the Arctic
If you stake a claim you also have to protect that territory. But after years of neglect, does Canada's military have clout to do that? "Our ability to know what's going on in our own backyard presently is just about zero," warns retired colonel Pierre Leblanc, Canada's former Arctic commander.
Meanwhile, the Inuit say you cannot claim sovereignty over a land if you don't take care of the people who live there. "It's our home. It's not some new frontier. It's not some new frontier just to be explored," says Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the Inuit activist who was nominated in 2007 for the Nobel Peace Prize. "This is our homeland. For us it's a way of life that we're protecting."Director Jullian Sher on location in the Arctic.
In this magical landscape at the top of our world, the biggest trick of all will be to ensure it never disappears. At the heart of the Battle for the Arctic lies the challenge of not just who owns it, but how to preserve and protect it.