Arctic News

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 8:04 PM By Kennie , In , , , , ,

Canada discusses larger role in Danish-Swedish Arctic mapping trip

By Bob Weber (CP)

Days after a Danish-led mapping expedition left port to sail into the waters near the North Pole, Canadian government officials are still discussing the role this country should play in the mission.

"We are still negotiating the details of how far we are part of that," said Jacob Verhoef, head of Canada's Arctic mapping program. "It's a little bit late."

Last weekend, the Swedish icebreaker Oden headed for the waters north of Greenland to map the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea ridge geographers expect will be crucial in determining boundaries in the Arctic sea bed. The expedition is led by Denmark, which has a claim in the region because of its ownership of Greenland.

Canada was a partner in a similar Danish mapping expedition in 2007. But Verhoef says only one Canadian is on board Oden this time. Nor is there any guarantee Canada will have access to data produced during the voyage.

"That's something we are still discussing with them," said Verhoef.

In 2007, Canada participated by paying Oden's expenses for several days in return for the ship's crew gathering data on a specific area of the Arctic seabed.

This expedition is expected to look mostly at the eastern side of the Lomonosov Ridge, which is likely to form part of Denmark's Arctic claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But Verhoef said the boat is likely to get as close to the North Pole as ice conditions permit.

International law professor and Arctic expert Michael Byers suggested the lack of a firm commitment from Canada might stem from the Conservative government looking to save money on the Arctic file.

"The Lomonosov Ridge is an area where we have potential overlapping claims (with Denmark). We may be missing an opportunity to acquire some quite valuable information."

"Likely, the Conservative government is trying to do some cost saving," said Byers, who was a New Democrat candidate in the last federal election.

Other parts of the government's Arctic strategy have already seen cutbacks.

Six planned Arctic patrol boats have had their firepower and surveillance capability reduced. Their engines will also be less powerful than originally envisioned.

The government also recently announced that tests planned this summer for a High Arctic surveillance system at the gates of the Northwest Passage will be postponed.