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Arctic rocks could prove Canada has greater claim over resources in the North

An Arctic expedition could provide details of how far Canada's boundary extends, laying the groundwork for control over any mineral resources on or underneath the Arctic Ocean floor.

A joint Canada-Sweden Expedition dredged up rocks from the ocean floor that are a billion years old

Scientists are analyzing rock samples from deepest basins of the Arctic Ocean to try to determine sovereignty in the north. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

An Arctic expedition could provide details of how far Canada's boundary extends, laying the groundwork for control over any mineral resources on or underneath the Arctic Ocean floor.

A joint Canada-Sweden Expedition used two ice breakers to dredge bedrock and cored sediments from two underwater ridges in the Arctic Ocean — the Lomonosov Ridge and Alpha Ridge — between August and September 2016. An American vessel dredged rocks from a third area called the Nautilus Spur, which is part of the Alpha Ridge.

The samples are currently being analyzed, but preliminary research shows the rock from the 1,400 km Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of Canada's bedrock.

If the bedrock in the Lomonosov Ridge, Alpha Ridge and Nautilus Spur are officially determined to be extensions of Canada's continental shelf, this could add significant landmass to Canada and give the country international recognition over Arctic resources. 

Digging deep 

The Lomonosov Ridge is attached to the continental shelf off North America and extends across the Arctic Ocean to Siberia. 

Canadian scientists collected more than 700 kilograms of rock samples from the ridge. The rocks are around a billion years old and not expected to contain any fossils or hydrocarbons that would produce oil.

Dr. Gordon Oakey was the lead scientist on the ship dredging up samples from the ocean floor.

Dr. Gordon Oakey, a research scientist from the Geological Survey of Canada, was the lead scientist on board the icebreaker expedition.

The crew didn't just dive down thousands of metres into the ocean, he explained in an interview with CBC Radio's All In A Day. Instead they planned potential sites for collecting rock samples, to make sure they had the best spots with the steepest angles to do the dredging. 

"We would park the ship in the ice, we would lower a dredge bucket down with big teeth that would grab the rocks and we would drift with the ice and scrape rocks off the side of the cliff, and hopefully recover rocks in the process," he said.

Dr. Gordon Oakey was the lead scientist on board the icebreaker expedition. 0:51

UN submission 

Oakey told CBC News that Canada will be providing a submission to the United Nations, which will include analytical results of the rocks, photos and reports.

"The geological and morphological structure are critical elements in defining whether these [samples] can be legally used as an argument for extending our sovereign claim," he said. 

The submission is expected in late 2018 or early 2019, much later than similar submissions by Russia in 2015 and Denmark in 2014.

Oakey noted that scientists had collected rock samples from the moon long before they had any samples from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, making these discoveries incredibly important. 

The rocks, he said, provide some of the best evidence to prove whether Canada's onshore geology correlates with the sediment in deep ocean basins.