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Canada's Arctic claim work challenged by ice, logistics

Scientists are gathering data to help Canada stake a claim over an area of the Arctic Ocean, but they say ice conditions are adding challenges to their work.

Scientists are gathering data to help Canada stake a claim over an area of the Arctic Ocean, but they say ice conditions are adding challenges to their work.

Researchers and officials with the federal government are working on ice camps off northern Ellesmere Island to gather extensive scientific data on the Arctic Ocean seabed and sedimentary rock.

That data will help form Canada's bid, under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, to claim sovereign rights to a vast area of the ocean that could be rich in natural resources.

Canada has until 2013 to submit its claim on the area, which stretches from the Yukon to the eastern Arctic.

Scientists working on the ice camp are also facing logistical challenges, like the numerous cracks of open water on the sea ice.

"Depending on which way the wind goes, they open up wider and wider and wider, which makes it harder for me to find places to land, harder to operate helicopters because open leads create fog, and it makes it much more dangerous," said Dave Maloley, a contractor in charge of logistics for Canada's research project.

"We still have at least three years and possibly running double camps per year to get everything done," he added. "If ice still keeps getting worse and worse, it makes my job much harder and harder every year."

The research project is also dealing with higher fuel costs and staffing issues.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said the federal government has brought in retired people from across Canada to work on the contract as it tries to get more young people involved in the research.

"We will ensure that we have the people here to do the job, but it is a challenge to keep the young people and to pass that so-critical knowledge on from one generation to the next," Lunn said.

The scientists will stay on the Ellesmere Island ice camps until the end of this month. They will then board icebreakers and venture into the Beaufort Sea, in the western Arctic, in August and September.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, signed by Canada in 2003, five northern countries may be able to extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.

That potentially gives Canada claim to an area the size of the Prairie provinces that could contain natural gas, oil and other resources.

However, the agreement is also prompting Russia to insist that huge areas of the Arctic that extend from an undersea mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge are part of Russian territory.

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