Canada signaled intentions to claim the North Pole and surrounding Arctic waters while announcing on Monday the filing of a UN application seeking to vastly expand its Atlantic sea boundary.
After a decade of surveying the country’s eastern and far north seabeds and gathering supporting evidence, a claim was submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on Friday.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the filing mainly concerns the outer limits of Canada’s continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. However, it also includes “preliminary information concerning the outer limits of [Canada’s] continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean,” he said.
“We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional work and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole,” he told a press conference.
“Fundamentally, we are drawing the last lines of Canada. We are defending our sovereignty,” Canadian Arctic Minister Leona Aglukkaq said.
Asserting sovereignty over an expansive Arctic archipelago and surrounding waters has been a key plank of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories in the past three elections since 2006.
However, Russia and Denmark are expected to file overlapping claims, which could lead to confrontation between the Arctic neighbors.
Interest in the polar region has flared up as rising temperatures open up shipping routes and make hitherto inaccessible mineral resources easier to exploit. The North Pole seabed itself is not believed to hold large reserves, but has symbolic value for the countries in the region, which also includes Norway and the US.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said enlarging Canada’s Arctic boundary is important for “Canada’s long-term economic prosperity.”
However, observers say that energy firms face harsh conditions in the Arctic, and environmental concerns could delay resource extraction in the pristine waters.
Just gathering supportive evidence for Canada’s claim has been a challenge, Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said.
Data collection mainly involved the use of aircraft, ice breakers and robot submersibles covering a 58,000km stretch of ice-covered waters. And periodically unpredictable ice conditions forced the emergency evacuation of ice camps, officials said.
Nations bordering the Arctic currently are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile (370km) economic zone from their coastlines, but claims for extending their territories are to be decided under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
To be successful Canada must show that its continental shelf extends beneath the North Pole, which sits on a slope of the underwater Lomonosov Ridge.