Canada Wants To Scientifically Prove It Owns The North Pole

Harper just sent two icebreakers to the North Pole to scientifically prove it's his.

Aug 12 2014, 6:42pm


Another chapter in Canada's ongoing obsession with Arctic sovereignty is being written in the North Pole this week. The Harper government just deployed two icebreakers to the Arctic on a scientific mission to collect data for Canada's official continental shelf submission to the United Nations: trying to prove the vast northern expanse is mostly its own.

Departing from Newfoundland, the CCGS Terry Fox will be tasked with breaking ice and clearing the way for the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent—a vessel outfitted with brand new sonar beam technology mapping the Arctic seabed. 

The scientific findings will help advance Canadian claims on where the continental shelf begins and ends. According to a simplified government report on the complex formula determining the boundaries, researchers will begin by locating "the foot of the continental slope" then measuring 60 nautical miles, along with other measurements gauging sediment thickness. 

"As demonstrated by these planned surveys," said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in a department release, "our government is committing the resources necessary to ensure that Canada secures international recognition of the full extent of its continental shelf, including the North Pole."

The first of two planned scientific surveys—the second is set for summer 2015— the boats are destined for the Eurasian Basin on the eastern side of the Lomonosov Ridge, patrolling near the disputed Arctic seabed, which Russian claims to own.

With their eyes squarely on the wealth of oil and gas sitting underneath the Arctic crust, Vladimir Putin and Stephen Harper both understand the resource-rich potential for whichever country holds the most land in the North Pole. This latest scientific mission is being undertaken with those natural resources in mind. In fact, the Natural Resources department is jointly "responsible for the scientific work," with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the whole operation.

Minister Greg Rickford wasted no time in his own statements championing the past work of his scientists discovering mineral deposits.

"Their work on this survey is a continuation of our government's efforts to ensure that the natural resources of this country support the long-term prosperity of Canadians," he said in the same government statement on the project.

Future "prosperity" is no doubt linked to staking at least part-ownership over the 90 billion barrels of oil potentially sitting untapped in the North Pole, or the 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

But if you think Canada's letting its claims on the Arctic rest solely on science, think again. Harper's own personal fascination with one Victorian era shipwreck has led to ongoing attempts to recover artifacts from an old doomed voyage.

This summer, in the biggest search yet for the historic ships of the ill-fated 1845 Sir John Franklin Expedition, Parks Canada has helped commission an armada with an eye to bringing back the HMSErebus andTerror from their watery Arctic Ocean graves. 

Even though neither ship has been seen in over 160 years, at least one federal Canadian Minister said finding the British ships would give "benefits to Canadians in the areas of Arctic sovereignty." Or in other words, building a national narrative and cultural claim on the oil-rich Arctic. 

Science and nationalism aside, all of this Arctic voyaging comes at a time when Canada's rivalry with Russia is reaching an international fever pitch. And with the war in Ukraine mounting tensions, there's been no shortage of hostilities. 

But even in the face of the Russians banning all Canadian food imports, or Canadian CF-18s intercepting Russian Tu-95s flying near Canadian airspace, the race for the Arctic is heating up, and Canada isn't backing down anytime soon.