Canada's efforts to claim a vast area of the Arctic Ocean as its own are getting some help from the military, which has deployed its own devices to aid researchers in mapping hard-to-reach parts of the high Arctic seabed.
The federal Defence Department recently deployed 39 seismic receivers, known as "geo-buoys," on the Arctic sea ice on the Alpha Ridge, located north of Ellesmere Island and not far from the North Pole.
The cylinder-shaped geo-buoys, normally used to listen for submarines under the ice, contain a radio transmitting system and various electronics, as well as a parachute on the top and an ice spike at the bottom.
"They put a loud sound in the water, and it penetrates the seabed," Don Mosher, an official with Defence Research and Development Canada, told CBC News.
"The sound is picked up by these buoys, which is then recorded for later analysis by Natural Resources Canada."
The devices were launched off of a military CP-140 Aurora aircraft in the last two weeks of April, as part of the military's collaboration with scientists working on the Alpha Ridge.
The scientists, who are with the departments of Natural Resources and Fisheries and Oceans, are helping to back up Canada's claim of sovereign rights to a vast area of the ocean that could be rich in natural resources.
Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, Canada has until 2013 to submit its claim on the area, which stretches from the Yukon to the eastern Arctic.
This may be the first time the military has used its geo-buoys for this purpose on the Arctic sea ice, said John Osler, a scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada.
"One of the challenges that they [scientists] faced was surveying in the extreme northern regions, mainly because of some of the logistical complications of doing the research that far north," Osler said.
The devices have allowed scientists to extend their data collection range by 150 kilometres, Osler said.
"The advantages of that technology is that it could be deployed from the aircraft while it's in flight, and the Aurora aircraft has considerable endurance," Osler said.
"It could deploy those sensors at the northern extremity of the area that [Natural Resources Canada] and Fisheries and Oceans were having to survey."
Osler said scientists are now analyzing the data from the geo-buoys. Depending on how good the data are, the devices may be used again next year as mapping research continues.
The military also plans to deploy remote-controlled underwater vehicles with various sensors in order to travel beneath the sea ice to measure water depth.