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Canada lays claim to the arctic seabed and subsoil

December 08, 2013

Canada has made application to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to take over part of the Arctic seafloor. Canada can seek to go beyond the internationally recognized limit of 200 miles from its coast if it can show the seabed is part of its continental shelf.

Canada applied to a United Nations commission for exclusive rights to another 1.7 million square kilometres of Arctic seafloor.

The 10-year time limit for making a claim is different for every Arctic country because it depends on when it ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Arctic is believed to contain as much as one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy resources, and countries are tabling scientific evidence with a United Nations commission to win rights to polar sea-floor assets. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country can secure control of ocean floor beyond the internationally recognized 200 nautical mile limit if it can demonstrate the seabed is an extension of its continental shelf.

Other Arctic coastal states also have extended continental shelves and are involved in a similar process. To maximize data collection in a challenging physical environment, encourage exchange of information and minimize future differences, Canada has been working closely with neighbouring Arctic Ocean coastal states. Any overlaps with the submissions of neighbouring states will be resolved through peaceful means in accordance with international law.

Moscow claimed territory up to the North Pole in its 2001 submission under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but was told by adjudicators to gather more evidence. The Russians are not expected to back down. In 2007, a Russian submarine drove this point home when it dropped a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole. Both Canada and Russia say they believe the mineral and oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs beneath the ocean and close to the geographic North Pole, is a natural extension of their continental shelves.

Whether or not Canada will claim the North Pole, a decision on its fate is still probably 20 years off. Just checking the science on Canada’s claim will likely take five years. These claims cover some of the remotest and harshest points on the planet and commercial exploitation of resources is a long ways off.

Interestingly, Canada overlooked some arctic islands it never knew it had. A Norwegian explorer, named Otto Sverdrup, explored and named some high arctic islands in 1898. It was not until 32 years later, in 1930, that the Canadian government quietly paid off the explorer’s estate and purchased the records of the discovery. The British government obtained an official release from Norway over any claims of sovereignty over the Sverdrup islands. The islands have a land area almost as large as Ireland. 


It is a very slow moving process to establish undersea claims. There are no downsides for Canada in maximizing its claim.