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Canada files to define outer limits of expanded Atlantic continental shelf; preliminary filing on Arctic, targeting North Pole

Overview of the outer limits of the expanded Canadian continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. Click to enlarge.

On 6 December, Canada filed a submission to define the outer limits of its expanded continental shelf area in the Atlantic Ocean with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. At the same time, Canada also filed preliminary information concerning the expanded outer limits of its continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean, which could include the North Pole.

In a news conference on the submission, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that Canada will indeed try to extend its territorial claims to the North Pole. “What we want to do is claim the biggest geographic area possible for Canada.”

Legal context. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides that all coastal states have a continental shelf extending 200 nautical miles (M) from coastal baselines or beyond 200 M if the shelf is a natural prolongation of its land territory. The Convention also recognizes that coastal states have sovereign rights over the natural resources of the seabed and subsoil of the continental shelf as well as jurisdiction over certain activities like marine scientific research.

The continental shelf beyond 200 M is known as “the extended continental shelf.” An estimated 85 countries, including Canada, are thought to have an extended continental shelf.

Article 76 of the Convention sets out a process for states to determine the limits of this “extended” continental shelf and gain international recognition for those limits. This process involves making a submission to an expert body established by the Convention called the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The process is part of a compromise reached when states negotiated the Convention. It balances recognition of the inherent rights of a coastal state over its continental shelf with the interest of the international community in defining the limits of seabed beyond national jurisdiction, where the mineral resources are the common heritage of mankind and are administered through the International Seabed Authority.

The outer limits of the shelf are defined using the physical attributes of the seabed (depth, composition) as well as distance from shore. These attributes are used to determine a series of coordinates (latitude/longitude) by which the outer limits are defined. Coordinates must be justified by scientific data, notably bathymetric data about the shape of the seabed and seismic data about the composition of the seabed.

Canada became party to UNCLOS on 7 December 2003. Under the terms of the convention, states parties have 10 years from the date they became party to the convention to file a submission with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. States parties can satisfy the 10-year time frame in the convention by submitting preliminary information indicating an intention to file a submission.

The Atlantic submission. The Atlantic shelf area is approximately 1.2 million square kilometers; 732 coordinates define the expanded outer limits.

According to the submission, in geological and geomorphological terms, the continental margin of Canada in the Atlantic Ocean extends continuously from offshore Nova Scotia in the south, along the Grand Banks to the northern tip of Labrador, although each of the three regions has unique characteristics. This continental margin comprises a number of seafloor elevations and forms the submerged prolongation of the land mass of Canada.

This submission for the Atlantic Ocean is a major step toward delivering on our priority of obtaining international recognition for the full extent of our continental shelf.

—Minister Baird

The tremendous effort to define the outer limits of our continental shelf is an investment in Canada’s long-term economic prosperity. Legal certainty and international recognition is vital to developing our potentially immense resources.

—Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resource

The submission for the Atlantic is the result of a decade-long scientific and technical undertaking by experts from the departments of Natural Resources, Fisheries and Oceans, and Foreign Affairs, and fulfills Canada’s legal obligation pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in respect of this area. They gathered 13,000 kilometers (8.078 miles) of seismic data and 18,000 kilometers (11,185 miles) of bathymetric data in the process.

Defining the outer limits of a continental shelf of this size requires significant scientific work. The Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Geological Survey of Canada have collected a great deal of data in areas that are ice-covered, difficult to access, and that in some instances had not previously been surveyed. While collected for Canada’s submission, this data will also contribute to increasing our scientific knowledge of the Arctic.

—Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea

The preliminary Arctic submission. With its filing of the preliminary, incomplete submission, Canada asserted that it was satisfying the time period requirement of the Convention, and that the preliminary information was submitted without prejudice to the question of the ultimate delimitation of the continental shelf.

Canada said that in the Arctic it faced the challenge of collecting data in areas that are ice-covered, difficult to access and that, in some instances, had not previously been surveyed.

The existence of perennial ice cover over much of the shelf area required an acquisition plan that involved data collection through the ice as well as collection of seismic and bathymetry data using icebreakers. International collaboration, notably with the United States of America and the Kingdom of Denmark, as well as the innovative use of technology were used to collect the best data possible in this environment. In preparation for its submission, Canada has acquired about 15,500 kilometres [9,631 miles] of seismic reflection data, 1,100 km [684 miles] of seismic refraction data and 38,000 line-kilometres [23,612 miles] of bathymetric data, as well as deployed 171 sonobuoys to collect information about the seismic velocity in the sedimentary layers. A total of 58,000 km [36,040 miles] of airborne gravity and magnetic data have been collected over the Alpha and Lomonosov Ridges in the Arctic Ocean.

The continental margin of Canada in the Arctic Ocean is part of a morphologically continuous continental margin around the Canada Basin and along the Amundsen Basin. It comprises a number of seafloor elevations (Lomonosov Ridge and Alpha Ridge) and forms the submerged prolongation of the land mass of Canada. Throughout, the areas of continental shelf extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baselines of Canada and, on the Alpha and Lomonosov Ridges, beyond the 350 nautical mile constraint.

—Canadian submission

2001 Russian claim for the Lomonosov Ridge. The shading shows the area of the continental shelf of the Russian Federation in the Arctic Ocean beyond the 200 M zone. The claim includes the part of the Lomonosov Ridge which extends from the Russian coast until the point of the North Pole. Click to enlarge.

In the news conference, Minister Baird said that Canada has not completed mapping the Lomonosov Ridge, which could link Canada to the North Pole.

The Lomonosov microcontinent is an elongated continental fragment that transects the Arctic Ocean between North America and Siberia via the North Pole. In 2001, Russia filed its first claim with the UN for ownership of the Lomonosov Ridge (see map at right). The UN rejected this claim, but Russia has continued research to bolster its claim.

Denmark also contends that Lomonosov is part of the continental shelf of Greenland. Denmark’s goal is to submit a formal claim to the CLCS by November 2014.



With the current increasing rate of climate changes, the North Pole may become ice free for extended periods every summer.

International navigation in the area will become common.

Shallow waters will make oil and NG exploration a strong possibility before 2030 or so.

Oil and Gas Industries will pressure politicians to get legal drilling licences.

Russia, Canada, Denmark, USA, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and a few other countries will rightfully claim part of it.


Sweden does not have an arctic border.


'Increasing rate of climate change'? I'm guessing you've missed the news about the 'pause' is actually slowing down. It is in fact likely to be cyclic in nature, meaning that the Arctic will be increasingly cold over the next couple of decades - I wouldn't bet a cent on the North Pole being ice-free for extended periods any time soon.


Low solar activity this cycle may be related to any slowdown. If that continues, we may buy some time to do something about global warming, but more likely we would use it as an excuse for delay.


Sorry sd...I didn't realize that Norway goes all the way North to Russia. Both Sweden and Finland are out of the North Pole Game?

Short cycles may happen but the longer time trend seems to be towards continued warming, unless.....


The "pause" is a rightwing myth that scientists have already debunked.

"New research by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research investigates how the warming of the Earth’s climate has behaved over the past 15 years compared with the previous few decades. They conclude that while the rate of increase of average global surface temperatures has slowed since 1998, melting of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and warming oceans have continued apace.

The widespread mainstream media focus on the slowed global surface warming has led some climate scientists like Trenberth and Fasullo to investigate its causes and how much various factors have contributed to the so-called ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus.’ However, the authors note that while the increase in global temperatures has slowed, the oceans have taken up heat at a faster rate since the turn of the century. Over 90 percent of the overall extra heat goes into the oceans, with only about 2 percent heating the Earth’s atmosphere. The myth of the ‘pause’ is based on ignoring 98 percent of global warming and focusing exclusively on the one bit that’s slowed."

"Trenberth and Fasullo found that after the massive El Niño event in 1998, the Pacific Ocean appears to have shifted into a new mode of operation. Since that time, Trenberth’s research has shown that the deep oceans have absorbed more heat than at any other time in the past 50 years.

As a recent paper published in the journal Nature showed, the Pacific Ocean in particular appears to be the key component of the climate’s natural internal variability, and the main culprit behind the slowed global surface warming over the past 15 years. However, another important recent paper by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way showed that the global surface temperature rise has not slowed as much as some previously thought; in fact, the surface warming since 1997 happened more than twice as fast as previous estimates."

In any case, the main point of the paper is that global warming is stuck on fast forward. Ice continues to melt, sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans continue to warm rapidly. While the warming of global surface temperatures has slowed somewhat, that appears to primarily be due to changing ocean cycles, particularly in the Pacific. However, these changes are mostly just causing the oceans to absorb more heat, leaving less for the atmosphere. As Trenberth and Fasullo conclude, “[Global warming] is very much alive but being manifested in somewhat different ways than a simple increase in global mean surface temperature.”

What could those "different ways" be? Well warmer ocean temperatures generally means more water vapor gets into the air, and that means more and/or bigger storms, flooding, a warmer Arctic, etc.
"contrarians have been heavily (and somewhat successfully) asserting that the world isn’t warming, that global warming has paused.

While this has always been a blatantly misleading argument that deliberately confuses short-term variation with long-term trends, a new study makes it perfectly clear that the world has warmed.

Contrarians focused on the rate of warming since 1998, which was an exceptionally hot year due to climate change and El Nino. This makes later years appear to be relatively cool, and is a form of lying with statistics. They draw a line on a graph showing the rate of warming from that unnatural peak in 1998 to now, and make it look like warming has continued at a steady pace, and not accelerated as expected (an argument that would fail any Statistics 101 class, as it ignores “regression to the mean”).

With this cherry-picked and statistically laughable graph in hand they cry “Global warming has paused! The climate models have failed!” as though the rate of acceleration of temperatures is somehow going to make or break the fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas. This would be quite the achievement, considering CO2’s greenhouse characteristics have been known since the 1820’s!"


That said, the real point to make is this: Burning fossil fuels -> global warming -> ice melts in Arctic -> greater access to Arctic Ocean and its resources -> more fossil fuels get burnt -> more warming -> etc.


'Debunked'? Hardly.

Remember, these scientists assured us *repeatedly* that surface temperatures were just going to get warmer and warmer, without end. The science was 'settled', remember? And now that surface temperatures are *not* increasing as predicted (the passages you quote mention this several times, so let's not pretend that it isn't so), they've been casting around for a new place to hide the heat, and they've settled on the ocean, which has somehow magically increased its heat absorption at the expense of the atmosphere?

Let's face it...they don't know what the hell they're doing, and they've been lying to us all along trying to convince us that they do. Like many liars they've been tripped up by reality...and it is bound to happen again.


Remember, these scientists assured us *repeatedly* that surface temperatures were just going to get warmer and warmer, without end.

And that's another myth. They have never said surface temperatures were "just" going to get warmer and warmer. In fact any time they've published a graph, like this one;

It's always shown the same thing: A year to year variation.

Even when you remove the natural influences from vocanoes and el ninos you still get year to year variations from weathers;


Of course there's year to year variation. But the trend was always to be inexorably upward, which is not what we're seeing now. The scientific community has already acknowledged this reality, why are you still trying to deny it?


Actually the trendline shows the temperature is still going up. And what the scientific community seems to acknowledge is dependant on who you're getting your news from. If it is from The DailyFail or FauxNews, well that's YOUR problem.


Two YouTube videos and a website I've never heard of? If that's all you've got, you might want to reconsider your position.

Not that it matters...we've already passed 'peak panic', and we're on the downslope now. Australia has already called shenanigans on the whole affair, and I imagine the rest of the world will be following shortly. You guys had a good scam going, you just couldn't seal the deal before reality tripped you up. Better luck next time.


Is this more to your liking?

RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists - the scientific community you say has already acknowledged this reality.


We know CO2 is a greenhouse gas, there is more of it in the atmosphere and more of it being emitted. How the atmosphere handles this is the question.

When there are stronger tornadoes and hurricanes, the atmosphere is releasing heat energy. When the arctic warms the permafrost gives off more methane, which is an even stronger greenhouse gas.

I don't understand the debate, we have to know burning fossil fuels that have been sequestered over millions of years in less than 100 years will have an effect, that is obvious.


Keep drinking the Kool-Aid. How many times do they have to admit fudged data for you to understand you got scammed? Think about it; if it were true, why would they have to cheat?


Worried about CC? A Global Tax isn't going to help. Join one of the plant-a-tree organizations; there are several.
Use Google. Sequester all you want. I do it. You can put your money where your mouth is; you don't have to have bureaucrats confiscate your wages if you have a heart for it. There are: NationalForests(dot)org, PlantaBillion(dot)org, PlantaTreeUSA(dot)com, Arbor Day Foundation, Plant a Tree in Israel (jnf[dot]org), and several others. Take a day off from blogging about it and do something constructive if that's where your belief lies. Running around screaming thru bullhorns and carrying signs is just 'look, see pidgen'.


u r a putz


Naysayers and non-believers normally have hidden reasons not to admit well known facts and to continuously blame politicians and governments.

To admit that they were wrong is too much for their ego. Instead, they continue with their negation till they die, often from things they refuse to admit for most of their life.


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