Saturday, August 11, 2007
Canada announces military installations to bolster claim to Arctic waters
The Associated Press
Friday, August 10, 2007
The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole last week. The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's three-day trip to the Canadian Arctic had been planned for months. But it has taken on added significance since the Russian flag-planting, which Canada and the U.S. promptly dismissed as legally meaningless.
Harper, speaking from the territory of Nunavut, said the new military installations would help back up Canada's claim to the waters and natural resources of the Northwest Passage, which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.
The U.S. and other countries say the passage is neutral territory.
"Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: Use it or lose it," Harper said from a storage shed protecting him from howling winds on a barren, rock-strewn highland in Resolute Bay, where the temperature was 35 degrees (2 degrees Celsius).
"Today's announcements tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic," he added, flanked by rifle-toting members of the Canadian Rangers, an Inuit volunteer force.
Resolute Bay, about 370 miles (595 kilometers) south of the North Pole, will be home to a new army training center for cold-weather fighting that will house up to 100 military personnel. The new deep-sea port will be built for navy and civilian purposes on the north end of Baffin Island.
Global warming has raised the stakes in the scramble for sovereignty in the Arctic because shrinking polar ice could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.
Denmark said scientists would embark Sunday on a monthlong expedition seeking evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile (1,995-kilometer) underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.
That might allow the Nordic nation to stake a claim under a U.N. treaty that could stretch all the way the North Pole. Canada and Russia also claim the ridge.
"The preliminary investigations done so far are very promising," Helge Sander, Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation told Denmark's TV2 on Thursday. "There are things suggesting that Denmark could be given the North Pole."
The Danes plan to set off from Norway's remote Arctic islands of Svalbard aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which will be assisted by a powerful Russian nuclear icebreaker to plow through ice as thick as 16 feet (5 meters) in the area north of Greenland.
"No one has ever sailed in that area. Ships have sailed on the edges of the ice but no one has been in there," the expedition leader, Christian Marcussen, said in Copenhagen. "The challenge for us will be the ice."
The team includes 40 scientists, 10 of them Danish, and the crews of the icebreakers, which will use sophisticated equipment, including sonar, to map the seabed under the ice.
Moscow claims the Lomonosov ridge is an extension of the Eurasian continent, and therefore part of Russia's continental shelf under international law. Russian researchers plan to use last week's dive to help map the ridge.
Canada and Denmark also both claim Hans Island, a half-square-mile rock at the entrance to the Northwest Passage. The island is wedged between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Danish-ruled Greenland, and has been a subject of bitter exchanges between the two NATO allies.
In 1984, Denmark's minister for Greenland affairs, Tom Hoeyem, caused a stir when he flew in on a chartered helicopter, raised a Danish flag on the island, buried a bottle of brandy at the base of the flagpole and left a note saying: "Welcome to the Danish island."
Last month, Harper announced that six to eight new navy patrol ships would be built to guard the Northwest Passage sea route in the Arctic.
As global warming melts the passage which is navigable only during a slim window in the summer the waters are exposing unexplored resources, and becoming an attractive shipping route. Commercial ships can shave off some 2,480 miles (3,990 kilometers) from Europe to Asia compared with the current routes through the Panama Canal.
Also on Friday, scientists said the Seattle-based icebreaker Healy was expected to reach Barrow, Alaska, on Aug. 17 and head about 500 miles (800 kilometers) north with a team of about 20 scientists, including a U.S. State Department geographer, to map an area known as the Chukchi Cap.
Russian media has speculated that Healy's mission signals that the U.S. is actively joining the competition for resources in the Arctic, but the trip's scientists said there is no political component to the expedition. The site of the expedition is not near any Russian claims.
"We're basically just doing science," said Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, on Friday. "There's no flag-dropping on this trip."
The purpose of the mapping work is to determine the extent of the continental shelf north of Alaska, Mayer said.
"In that area, the (U.S.) would have rights over the resources of the sea floor and subsurface that would include drilling for oil and gas," he said.
It is not a claim, he said, but a process of registering boundary information with the United Nations' Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
"While a significant technological achievement, the planting of the Russian flag on the seabed of the North Pole has no legal effect and did not prompt the participation of the State Department expert in the Healy cruise," said State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson.
Associated Press Writer Doug Mellgren contributed to this report from Oslo, Norway. Associated Press Writer Doug Esser contributed from Seattle.