The federal government is beginning the expensive task of surveying the Northwest Territories-Nunavut border, which was established in the 1990s but has yet to be marked on the ground.

Northwest Territories

The 2,400-kilometre border, considered the longest jurisdictional boundary in the country, came into effect when Nunavut became its own territory in 1999.

But with more mineral exploration work starting up near the border, the need to pin down a physical line has become more important, a senior federal surveyor told CBC News at a national industry conference this week in Yellowknife.

"The border on the map is just a picture; it's a picture on a flat piece of paper. In real life, the Earth is round and it will affect where you think the line is and where you really are," said Nancy Kearnan, the government's deputy surveyor general for the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

"So in some areas, it was very important to find a clear physical demarcation on the ground, so that there is no ambiguity."

Knowing the location of the border is important, as mining companies in the area need to know which territorial government and regulatory system they must work with, she added.

Crews began surveying the border near Kugluktuk, Nunavut, where exploration for diamonds, gold and base metals is already in full swing.

Pins drilled into rock

Ottawa spent $1.1 million on surveying work in March, when travel on the land was easiest.

Varrick Ollerhead of Ollerhead and Associates Ltd., the Yellowknife-based firm that did the work, said his crew drilled 70 metal pins into rock along a 668-kilometre stretch of the border over a 30-day period.

Ollerhead said the work revealed that some images of the N.W.T.-Nunavut border, such as those shown on Google Earth, appear to be several kilometres off.

Citing one minesite on the Nunavut side of the border, Ollerhead observed, "You get very close to the border [and] you would've thought they were five miles inside or 10 miles inside.

"But once we were done, like really, their airstrip is almost in Northwest Territories and their minesite is in Nunavut," he said.

Parcels of land transferred to Inuit land-claim beneficiaries in Nunavut have already been surveyed, according to officials.

Work on surveying the rest of the N.W.T.-Nunavut border is expected to continue next winter.