Canada’s 2019 Arctic Ocean continental shelf submission to the United Nations

Pop Quiz: What is...

  • 1.2 M square kilometres
  • ~1 metric tonne of rocks
  • 2100 pages
  • 877 exact coordinates
  • 870 figures
  • 120 pages of tables
  • 15 survey missions
  • 13 large format regional seismic profiles
  • 10 large format maps
  • 2 digital copies
  • 1 geographic North Pole
Answer: Canada’s 2019 Arctic Ocean continental shelf submission to the United Nations

History makers

On Thursday, May 23 at 10:30 eastern time, a small Canadian delegation including three Natural Resources Canada - Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) researchers from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (Dr. Mary-Lynn Dickson, Walta-Anne Rainey, Kai Boggild) were in New York City. It was a historic day for Canada: Global Affairs Canada presented our 2100 page Arctic Ocean submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This effort follows the 2013 submission for the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Arctic Ocean is the least researched area in the world. Our scientists undertook 15 missions between 2006 and 2016: five joint survey missions with Denmark, four joint missions with the US, one joint mission with Sweden, and five independent Canadian surveys. Collaborative missions in the Arctic Ocean were critical to successful operations and data collection due to harsh environmental conditions and perennial ice cover requiring two icebreakers working together to collect data and samples.

The Science of Surveying

The GSC was responsible for the science to measure seafloor sediment thickness, establishing the geological framework of the Canada and Amundsen basins, developing a surficial geology atlas and tectonic plate reconstructions, acquiring and analysing geological samples dredged from the seafloor, that taken together provide robust scientific evidence that the continental margin is a natural component of the Canadian landmass. The Canadian Hydrographic Survey, Fisheries and Oceans Canada acquired bathymetric measurements to establish the foot of the continental slope and the 2,500 metre isobath that are critical to defining the continental shelf. Using a variety of tools and techniques, the team discovered new features on the seafloor. They dredged nearly 1 metric tonne of rocks at several sites from depths of up to 2,500 metres Some of the rocks represent the first samples ever collected from an area equal to one-third the size of Ontario and samples of fossilized plant material were also recovered suggesting the presence of islands millions of years ago. All this data contained valuable clues requiring years of analysis. In the end, scientific evidence supports Canada’s proposed outer limits encompassing the 1.2 million square km of the seafloor and subsoil in the Arctic Ocean that is a natural prolongation of Canada’s landmass.

Where are Canada’s proposed new outer limits?

Canada’s continental shelf in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, beyond 200 nautical miles, covers approximately 2.4 million square kilometres. This is about the size of the three Prairie Provinces. Together, Canada’s submissions show entitlement to one of the largest continental shelf areas ever submitted to the CLCS.

Patience and perseverance

Although the submission is now with the United Nations CLCS, the work continues to undertake post-submission activities to prepare for future reviews by the CLCS. The Commission reviews the submissions in the order they are received, and are currently reviewing #45. Canada’s Arctic submission is #84, while the Atlantic, submitted in 2013, is #70. During this wait time, Canada is obligated to maintain the submissions. This means that all documents, maps, figures and software used to generate the submissions must be current and accessible. When the time comes for Canada’s submissions to be reviewed, scientists with the program will work with the CLCS.

Team UNCLOS

Pride, dedication and commitment are just a few of the attributes of our phenomenal team of UNCLOS Program researchers. Meet some of the many researchers whose years of science research have shaped this immense project for all Canadians.

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