North

Canada to map central Arctic seabed

Federal scientists are set to map the ocean seabed in the central Arctic this month, as Canada continues to gather data to help claim more Arctic territory under an international treaty.

Researchers will deploy robotic vehicles beneath the ice

Jacob Verhoef, left, with Dave Hopkin with one of the automated underwater vehicles that will be deployed in the central High Arctic later this month. ((DRDC Atlantic))

Federal scientists are set to map the ocean seabed in the central Arctic this month, as Canada continues to gather data to help claim more Arctic territory under an international treaty.

The Canadian government has until 2013 to submit a claim, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to extend its sovereignty beyond the usual 200 nautical-mile limit currently recognized in international law.

In order to make that claim, Canada has to prove that the Arctic seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.

"What we're trying to do is cover the entire Arctic margin from, let's say, north of Greenland to almost the Alaska boundary," Dr. Jacob Verhoef, the scientific director of Canada's mapping efforts, told CBC News.

After spending the last four years mapping the seabed in the eastern Arctic, scientists are moving west this month, setting their sights on an area off Borden Island in the central High Arctic.

The survey will likely run from mid-March to early May, depending on weather conditions, Verhoef said.

Verhoef said about 35 researchers in two teams will take part in this year's project. One group will set up camp just off Borden Island and fly out by helicopter from there to measure the depth of the sea floor.

A second group will be at an offshore ice camp about 350 kilometres to the northwest, he added.

Underwater robotic vehicles

An artistic rendering of the AUV that will be used in the central High Arctic. ((DRDC Atlantic))
"We also will be putting in the water for the first time, what is called the AUVs, the autonomous underwater vehicles, and that will also happen somewhere near the end of March," Verhoef said.

"They are being tested in Indian Arm — this is just north of Vancouver — and they will be flown to the Arctic by something near the 20th of March."

The bright yellow pencil-shaped machines, about seven metres in length, come with sophisticated equipment that allows them to measure the depth of the seafloor, among other things.

The AUVs are being operated in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Canada, a scientific agency that's part of the federal Defence Department, Verhoef said.

"In the area that we will be operating, the ice is about two metres thick," said Dave Hopkin, the agency's head of maritime asset protection in Halifax.

"This translates into having to cut a hole and move about 50 or 60 tonnes of ice out, so that you can get the vehicle into the water."

Verhoef said Canada will collaborate again with the United States, for the third year in a row this fall, to map the Canada Basin area.

With files from Patricia Bell

now