The Canadian government plans to announce next week that it will be launching evidence-gathering efforts to determine whether it can lay claim to the geographic North Pole.
As The Globe and Mail reported this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a last-minute intervention in Canada's planned submission to the United Nations commission that is accepting claims for seabed rights in regions such as the Arctic.
Mr. Harper asked Canadian bureaucrats to craft a more expansive claim for ocean-floor resources in the polar region after the proposed submission they showed him failed to include the geographic North Pole.
Ottawa has not amassed sufficient firsthand scientific evidence to support such a claim, but will be doing more mapping and research to try and support this.
One of the last great land rushes is taking place at the top of the world – a staking of territorial claims that's been anticipated for years.
Claiming the geographic North Pole – which Canada has yet to do – would place the country at odds with Russia and Denmark. Russia already filed a submission that lays claim to seabed rights as far as the Pole in 2001 but was informed its bid required more supporting evidence. Denmark is expected to do so by 2014.
At stake is potential wealth. 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 the UN 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.
Responsibility for processing the claims falls to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. It will process the claims and verify the science but is struggling with a backlog of cases right now. It won't adjudicate overlapping claims. Instead it will kick disputes back to the countries involved and these parties are supposed to negotiate a solution under rules agreed to by all signatories to the UN convention.
Canada was supposed to make its claim by Friday, but as The Globe has reported, it will only be making a partial submission while preserving its right to file more later. In the meantime, it will work on building a case for the Pole.
To support a stake that lays claim as far as the North Pole, Canada would have to establish that an underwater mountain ridge called the Lomonosov Ridge is linked to Canadian territory. "It has to be shown that it's connected to the North American continent and extends outward. If there's a break it doesn't hold," said Arctic security expert Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary.
Countries such as Canada have been conducting aerial and ship-borne mapping of the Arctic seabed for years to support their claims.