A year after Russia's controversial flag-planting dive to the North Pole seabed to assert ownership of a sprawling underwater mountain chain, Canada is launching a less brazen but potentially more effective counterclaim for control over parts of the disputed Arctic ridge - perhaps even the pole itself - by publishing a scientific paper in a scholarly journal.
According to the Canadian press the federal geologist heading Canada's bid to extend its continental shelf in the high Arctic says the early findings from a joint Canadian-Danish study of the Lomonosov Ridge suggest the massive undersea rock formation - which extends about 2,000 kilometers from the Ellesmere Island-Greenland boundary waters, past the North Pole and then towards Siberia - are "very positive" for Canada's case, and that the sea floor at the pole could eventually be ruled part of this country's territory. "That is a possibility," Dr. Jacob Verhoef, Halifax-based director of the Geological Survey of Canada's Atlantic division, told Canwest News Service. "If we start measuring how far we can use (the research findings) to define our outer limits - whether we get all the way up to the pole, or half way, or more than half way - we simply do not have enough information at the moment. But that is part of our plan in the next three years." Verhoef is heading two similar seabed mapping projects further west in Canada's Arctic, one along the Alpha Ridge northwest of Ellesmere Island and the other in the Beaufort Sea near the Yukon-Alaska border, where Canadian and U.S. interests clash. He recently disclosed that the six-week, seabed mapping project completed this spring along the Alpha Ridge - which also appears to reach across the Arctic Ocean to Russia - produced good preliminary results for Canada, too. Under rules set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, proving scientifically that sub-sea terrain is a continuation of a country's continental shelf can give a nation control over wide swaths of submerged land - and access to potential offshore oil and gas and other resources. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are at odds over 1.2 million square kilometers of Arctic seabed. Experts believe about one quarter of the world's untapped petroleum reserves lie below the Arctic Ocean. The race among Arctic nations to lay claim to the polar ocean bottom drew global attention last summer when a team of Russian scientists - strongly backed by Moscow - sent a submersible to the North Pole sea floor to deposit a titanium Russian flag. But the intensifying competition, along with rising concerns about the environmental effects of increased polar development, prompted Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moeller to organize a five-nation Arctic Ocean summit being held next Wednesday in Greenland. The event is expected to produce an agreement among the countries to cool the rhetoric, avoid further public conflict and abide by rules under UNCLOS and other international laws to sort out Arctic ownership disputes.