North

Early findings encouraging in Canada-U.S. mapping of Arctic Ocean seabed

Canadian scientists collaborating with U.S. counterparts to map the Arctic Ocean seabed say their most recent work bears promising results.

Canadian scientists collaborating with U.S. counterparts to map the Arctic Ocean seabed say their most recent work bears promising results.

This fall, about 200 researchers and coast guard personnel travelled aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis St. Laurent and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy to map the seabed in the Canada Basin, located north of the Beaufort Sea.

The two countries are working together to gather scientific data on the seabed, but each nation is working to extend its own sovereignty in the Arctic in such a way as to conform with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Both countries are trying to prove their continental shelves extend beyond the 200 nautical-mile economic zone.

"Certainly, it is challenging because of ice conditions and weather, but we've had a very successful mission this year and actually collected more data than what we anticipated," Brian LeBlanc of the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC News on Friday.

LeBlanc said the two vessels worked closely to relieve the ice pressure on their hulls from Arctic pack-ice ridges as high as eight metres. Their work wrapped up last month.

Scientists were able to fire more than 85,000 seismic pulses into the ocean to try to determine how far the continental shelf extends in the Canada Basin.

"We took advantage of the ice conditions and advantage of the two ships working very well together to get actually astonishing-quality scientific data in areas where we've never been before," said Jacob Verhoef, who is leading Canada's mapping efforts for Natural Resources Canada.

Verhoef said teams from both nations gathered seismic information from latitudinal areas as far as 83 degrees north.

He added that the preliminary data is encouraging, meaning Canada's continental shelf may extend quite far.

At the same time, he said Canada and the U.S. are considering another joint mapping project next year. Next year's mapping may take place north of Banks Island, and focus on a major underwater mountain chain called the Alpha Ridge.

Countries trying to extend their Arctic sovereignty under the UN convention hope to tap into vast areas rich in resources, such as oil and gas.

Canada signed onto the international treaty in 2003, and is already working with Denmark to map the Lomonosov Ridge near Ellesmere Island. The U.S. has not yet ratified the UN treaty, but it is moving ahead with its scientific work anyway.

now